Australia’s ‘Temple of Wine’ – Wines & Vines Visits – Brief Article – Statistical Data Included
The Australian wine industry has built what it claims is the finest temple to wine on earth. After a couple of days inspecting the National Wine Center on the banks of the River Torrens on the fringe of Adelaide’s business area, it’s difficult to dispute the claim. The structure is a striking testimonial to wine, the men and women who make it and the role it plays in Australia’s modern culture. The sparkling $US 15 million Center is a blend of museums, restaurants, tasting rooms, exhibition halls and futuristic displays of the ancient art of winemaking. There are lecture rooms and, in the spacious grounds, a small, working vineyard.
Since opening in September it has become an instant tourist attraction. One favored exhibit is a computerized feature where visitors can match their wits and skills with the master winemakers of Australia and “blend” virtual wines. Then they can go and taste a huge range of real wines at Kelly’s Tasting Room, where hundreds of the nation’s most famous vintages are on sale.
“It’s a major achievement and something of which we are really proud,” says David Dean, McLaren Vale Winemakers’ managing director.
National Wine Center of Australia Executive Director Anne Ruston takes delight in showing visiting winemakers from abroad around the sophisticated showplace. A former civil servant with a tourism promotion background, she’s well aware of the growing importance of wine tourism.
Adelaide is the logical location, she points out. South Australia produces 500,000 tons of grapes annually in its four top regions. The state presses half of Australia’s grapes and makes 60% of its quality wine. South Australian Shiraz and Cabernets are reckoned to be the best reds in the country. Its dominance of Riesling has led to a revival of that grape.
Another feature of the Center is the de Castella’s restaurant, overlooking the city’s expansive botanical gardens. An imaginative menu of modern Australian cuisine, heavily influenced by Mediterranean and Asian migration, gives the opportunity to match food with wines from all 61 Australian wine regions.
A major objective of the Center was to be a focal point for marketing and promoting Australia’s quality wine. It is also designed to be a lynchpin for the growing wine tourism industry that is largely focused on Adelaide and the wine regions that stud the surrounding countryside–Coonawarra, Barossa, McLaren Vale, the Clare Valley and Adelaide Hills.
“People can visit the Center, see how the city fits in with the wine-lands and then decide which areas to go and see,” Ruston says. “This has already proved very popular with Asian visitors.”
There’s also a study and lecture option, which has been attractive to Japanese visitors and is seen as being a major reason for them to spend an extra day in Adelaide.
Imaginatively designed with spacious demonstration and lecture facilities and aimed at being a “total wine experience,” there are 170 interactive sites where visitors can click and watch aspects of the history of wine. Those with a fascination for wine history can listen to scores of interviews with the men and women who built the industry. Historians went across the nation collating an oral history from veteran wine industry members. They collected stories and legends that trace the evolution of wine from uncertain beginnings to its present economic importance.
Exhibitions are split into themes: Growing Grapes, Making Wine and Drinking Wine. They are entertaining as well as educational, highlighting lights and sounds of the vineyard and winery while telling the story of great winemakers.
In the Growing Grapes hall, a light and sound show vividly displays weather over a 150-year-old Shiraz vine and a panoramic video projection of a year in the life of an Australian vineyard. Ancient traditions of Greek and Roman wine use are on display, such as urns more than 2,000 years old.
Every Australian wine region is shown on a suspended map, illustrating location and unique climatic and geographic conditions.
Interactive niches allow visitors to ask questions of some of Australia’s best known winemakers who appear to be floating life-sized in front of them. The Making Wine hall echoes like a cathedral, with the sights and sounds of modern winemaking against a backdrop of a wall of wine barrels.
Another interactive area is populated by the visions of “virtual personalities” including wine judges and chefs; visitors can ask these images questions and get answers. The technology is as impressive as the wines on display.
The Drinking Wine hall includes a transparent wall of wineglasses and displays of bottles, corks and corkscrews. There’s a mounted collection of year 2000 wine labels from many wineries.
But the key to the hall are pedestals that invite visitors to test their taste skills on four wine varieties. This leads to a tasting bar where visitors try to determine which of the four varieties they are drinking.
Once dedicated beer-swilling society, Australia over the past two decades has become a knowledgeable wine culture. Wine has helped fuel quality tourism, better restaurants and the arts, and is linked closely to an enormous elevation of the standards of cuisine. Credit for much of this goes to visionaries in the wine industry, aided by waves of refugees and new settlers from Europe and Asia. In 1994, there were domestic sales of 313 million liters, which grew to 369 million liters in 2000. That means, over the same period, wine production at 1,318 registered wineries has gone from 531 million liters to 977 million liters (last year’s estimate) with 110,623 hectares under vine (1 hectare equals 2.47 acres). It’s a big foreign currency earner, with 339 million liters of exports bringing in US$307 million.
Kevin Sinclair is based in Hong Kong.
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