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Australian vineyards make inroads in world wine market
BAROSSA VALLEY, Australia (CNN) -- One of Australia's best-kept secrets is out of the bag. Make that "out of the bottle." The country's wines are showing up on store shelves around the world -- giving traditional European and American vintages a run for their money.
The Barossa Valley in southern Australia is the continent's premier wine-making region. The rolling hills and soft curves of the land evoke the vineyards of France, Italy and California.
But a closer look among the vines at the Jacob's Creek winery reveals one striking feature that's down-home Down Under. Kangaroos graze freely among the grapes.
"Kangaroos tend to graze low down rather than high up," says chief wine maker Philip Laffer, "so they're quite good at weed control."
The Barossa Valley is home to some of the oldest wineries in Australia. German immigrants started Jacob's Creek in the 1840s, and the vineyard now produces the country's most popular wine -- some 120 million bottles a year.
Taking the world by storm
It wasn't until the late 1980s, though, that Australian wines really hit their global stride.
"We now export more bottled table wine from Australia than we consume at home," Laffer says.
Other wine makers agree that international marketing has been a boon.
"Australia has been sending its wines overseas, people are trying them and saying 'This tastes fantastic,'" says Margaret Lehmann, who with her husband runs one of Australia's best known wineries, Peter Lehmann Wines.
A local favorite
Although Barossa vineyards produce everything from Riesling to Cabernet Sauvignon, if there's one wine associated with Australia, it's Shiraz.
"Shiraz is the Barossa's great red grape variety, and we think the heartland of the world's shiraz lies in the Barossa," Lehmann says.
The Lehmanns put a unique spin on this traditional favorite. Their Black Queen is a sparkling Shiraz, available only at the winery itself.
Another reason to visit the valley: vintages from hundreds of smaller wineries there can't be found anywhere else.
Vineyard tours enhance the experience in the tasting rooms, but they're best arranged in the early months of the year. Seasons in Australia are reversed from those in the northern hemisphere, making March the middle of the harvest period.
In fact, Australia's sunny, dry weather and remote location contribute to the success of the bottled product.
"Clearly our climate helps," says Laffer of Jacob's Creek. "The fact that we are an isolated island means that for years we have been free of disease, we don't have to use many sprays. We have tight quarantine, so everything is clean, green and healthy... it's really a wine maker's dream making wine in this country."
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Australian Wine Online
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