From the First Fleet in 1788, Ireland has left an indelible mark on Australian society and created one of the most established Irish immigrant communities anywhere in the world. More than 30,000 people who were born in Ireland live in Australia today and 20 per cent of us claim Irish heritage - the second largest grouping on our continent, according to the National Museum of Australia.
These long standing and significant ties have created an interconnectedness that permeates our social, business, literature, cultural and diplomatic ties, but also extends to wine, and not just to grape growing but the whole integrated wine making industry, from grape to table.
Australian wines reflect the best of Irish and Australian cultures; the joy of making a fine wine, the skill in winning international recognition, the science which has supported the Australian wine industry and the art of our wine makers to help us be good at what we do.
The hidden truth about many of our best Australian wines is that they are, in fact, Irish wines too - cultivated by generations of Irish hands to create a unique connection between some of the best wines made on our island and this island. Following Ireland’s Jacobite War in the late 17th century, The Wine Geese, as they became known, a grouping of people who left Ireland and over time, came to almost singular importance in the French, Spanish and Australian wine industries.
In Australia, there are 65 wine regions, each with its own unique topography, geography, climate and soils and more than 100 grape varieties planted. This diversity has produced some of the world’s best wines in recent years ,with Australian Shiraz and Chardonnay in particular gaining significant renown in the global award circuit. In April 2019, a 2015 Barossa Shiraz was judged the Best Wine in the World at the London Wine Competition and in 2020 another Australian wine, d’Arenberg’s The Dead Arm Shiraz 2017 won the top award of Wine of the Year, with the Australian wine industry taking home 37 gold, 107 silver and 47 bronze medals - more medals than any other country.
Within this rich history of viticulture success lies the well-known Clare Valley wine region in South Australia which takes its name from Co Clare. The Barry family of Jim Barry Wines produces one of Australia’s most famous Shiraz wines, called Armagh (this year’s release - 2017 has been rated 96 points out of 100 by the highly regarded Halliday Wine Companion).
The O’Shea family at the Mount Pleasant vineyard in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales have long influenced not just a regional viticulture industry but helped establish wine as an Australian drink …we tended to be beer drinkers! The Horgan family of Leeuwin Estate in my home state of Western Australia is another example of these historical ties. Their Art Series Chardonnay is regarded by Halliday as the finest Australian Chardonnay.
Clonakilla, a vineyard near our national capital, Canberra, is steeped in Irish character, with unmistakable Irish influence. Its name comes from Tim Kirk’s farm in Co Clare of the same name. The most recent offering has the name Ballinderry, claimed to be Irish for “place of oak” so named after a local oak tree.
Other Irish wine families include O’Leary-Walker, O’Dwyer, McWilliams, Serafino, Longview Vineyards and Taylor Wines, all with roots on the island of Ireland, completing a truly unique story that links our two ‘islands’.
We often hear of the Irish diaspora and their remarkable influence on art, politics and culture around the world with widely recognised contributions. We know the Irish contribution to both stout and whiskey distilling as well. Yet despite this, their integral influence on the development of extraordinary Australian wine and the curation of Australian wine culture remains an untold gem in the middle of Ireland’s diaspora story.
The convivial atmosphere of a glass of Australian wine, enjoyed in an Irish setting, is truly hard to beat. We get to savour the flavours that come from generations of wine making across two great island nations, joined in friendship, family and fun, knowing that when enjoyed in moderation, wine can help us all bond.
A well selected glass will help us get through a pandemic too.
At the Australian embassy part of our mission in Ireland will be to help rediscover this hidden knowledge and, over the coming years, complete the life cycle by putting world-leading Irish wine back into the hands of the Irish people, whose ancestors cultivated the soil that produced it.”