We’ve all heard of Marlborough in New Zealand - that’s where the great Sauvignon Blanc comes from. Burgundy makes some particularly nice Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But what do we know of our own backyard?
While in France there are Appellations d’Origine Protégé (AOP) ( Pretected regions of origin – think Champagne) and the equivalent Denominazione di origine Protecta in Italy, and various others for each wine making country, here in Australia we have Geographical Indications, or GIs. It may not mean much to the average consumer, but they are kind of a big deal.
Let’s go local
Did you know there are 20 Geographical Indicators in Victoria alone? You may have heard of some of them: Yarra
Peninsula, Heathcote and so on. Sound familiar? These are all specific areas of grape production and wine-making, and they are protected names with specific boundaries. Probably the most famous case of regional identity is Coonawarra in South Australia. Defining the boundary of which wineries were on the highly lauded Terra Rossa was a contentious issue, and in many cases, the result is the difference between a recognisable wine region and one that many don’t know, despite being geographical neighbours. This ability to put Coonawarra on the label of your wine also translates to the ability to sell the wine at a higher price. So even though it might seem trivial to fight over where the grapes were grown, it is a significant issue for many winemakers.
Why it matters
No one takes the provenance of the ‘where produce comes from’ argument more seriously than the French. The French have AOP laws covering all manner of produce, from wine and cheese to chickens and lentils. The idea behind this philosophy is that produce that comes from a specific region has qualities specific to the region – and in the case of the French, it also relates back to a long tradition of regional pride - with the ingrained defence against mimicry being that only you make your produce in your region. For instance, you can’t make Champagne in Tasmania. We can make terrific sparkling wine using the same kinds of methods, but the product by name cannot be replicated outside of Champagne. These appellations laws that control the region and the production methods are, however, far more controlling than the system that is in place in Australia.
Method, not madness
In Australia, the GIs are specific to region. They do not go so far as to control the grapes that are to be used to make the wine, nor do they dictate a style. In Champagne, the rules state that to be called Champagne the wine must be sparkling, in Sauternes the wine must be sweet as a result of Botrytis Cinerea, or “noble rot”, and failing to meet this stylistic criteria means you cannot use this word on the label. In Australia, however, if you have Coonawarra on your label, there is no governing body saying that you have to make a table wine from Cabernet Sauvignon. Wisdom would suggest you don’t try to make Pinot Noir (the climate is all wrong), but there are no rules against it.
Freedom drives creativity
We are lucky here to not be less restricted in how wine is to be made or the style in which it must be created. This freedom leads to tremendous experimentation and ultimately better wine experiences for everyone. In the same breath, this lack of regional specificity also makes awareness of the local strengths harder to reinforce. There is a strong argument for consumers to know that great Riesling comes from the Clare Valley, and great Pinot Noir from Mornington Peninsula, but this is possibly too restrictive for such an inquisitive and ultimately young wine-producing nation such as Australia. As always, the best part of further understanding is going out and trying more wines from a variety of places and finding out for yourself - what do you think are the regional heroes?