The Start of Australian Sparkling Red
John Wilson, a fellow sparkling red maker from the Clare Valley in South
Australia has spent many hours researching the earliest years of the Sparkling
Originally called Sparkling Burgundy,
the Australian sparkling wine was nothing like any other of the early
French sparkling wines. The French wines were
possibly made from Pinot Noir or not even red grapes at all. The word
"Burgundy" was also used in France to
describe Chardonnay and some very light red wines. In Australia,
chardonnay was commonly referred to as "White Burgundy".
John Wilson’s research found the
first Australian Sparkling Burgundy was produced in 1881 by the Victorian Champagne
Company. This Company was established by Melbourne doctor and parliamentarian,
Louis Lawrence Smith, who employed the talents of French winemaker Auguste D'Argent. Their
Sparkling Burgundy was described as being rose-coloured, which placed in
very much in the European style, rather than the subsequent Australian
style. The first commercial attempt it may have been, but it was short
lived, as in 1884 the company went into voluntary liquidation and Auguste D'Argent died later
in the same year.
In 1888, a French winemaker Edmund Mazure (then 27 years of age) was employed to manage
the now long gone Auldana vineyard in the Adelaide foothills of South Australia. Edmund had spent a few
years previously in French and Spanish wineries, coming to Australia via the Dutch
East Indies. The Auldana vineyard
grew mainly Shiraz
grapes. Wilson suggests, and I would agree,
that there is little doubt that Edmund Mazure used
some of these Shiraz
grapes to make Sparkling wine and deserves the honour of being the creator
of the Australian Sparkling Burgundy. Mazure went
on to start his own sparkling wine cellars, which was eventually named
By 1894 the Great Western winery, in the
western part of the state of Victoria, and currently owned by Southcorp, had made sparkling burgundy under their
winemaker Hans Irvine, and had exhibited the wine in the Royal Agricultural
Society's Melbourne Wine Show.
I recommend you to John Wilson's web
site for a more detail.
You can find it at www.wilsonvineyard.com.au/newsletters/classic_clippings/vintage/vintage93.
Thanks for all your research John.
The Middle Years
In the 1920's Great Western had started
entering Sparkling Burgundy in the Adelaide
and Sydney Wine Shows; in competion with Minchinbury, a Sydney
based New South Wales sparkling winery and
Edmund Mazure's Auldana
Cellars in Adelaide.
By 1934 Seppelts Great Western was the
only winery producing Sparkling Burgundy: Australia was in the grip of a
Antidotal evidence suggests Australian Sparkling
Burgundy dropped down in demand during the late 1930's and 40's, with a resurgence in the 1950's. Norm Walker, now retired
after 35 years making sparkling white and red by the Methode Chamenoise at Romalo Cellars
recalls that during the 1950's, total production of sparkling red wine at Romalo Cellars was around 12,000 cases.
The 1960’s was a period of quiet consumption of Sparkling Burgundy. The main drawcard
at this time was the emergence of tank fermented Sparkling Pearl wines, and
the start of the good quality Riesling.
The Cold Duck era from 1971 to 1975 was not
a good time for Australian Sparkling Burgundy. The idea for the Cold Duck
fad was brought here from the USA. Within a short time,
various concoctions of sweet, thin red wines, lightly or heavily carbonated
hit the market. The prices became cheaper and cheaper, dragging down the
sales of genuine Australian Sparkling Burgundy to a point where sales
Even the most serious players in the
Australian Sparkling Burgundy market (including Seppelt's
Great Western), stopped laying down new stocks ( tirage stocks). The sales of Sparkling Burgundy
at Romalo Cellars had dropped from 1951 to 1976
and Norm Walker had stopped making the style, concentrating instead on its
burgeoning Seaview white sparkling wine. By 1985,
Norm Walker was making 300,000 cases of Seaview
During this time I was at Roseworthy
Agriculture and then Oenology, graduating in 1973. In those years,
winemaking did not have the popularity it has now; I am Graduate No. 128 in
the history of the College! I spent many hours during these Roseworthy years drinking 10 year old Romalo Sparkling Burgundy (at $2.00 per bottle) with my
winemaker friend Malcom Ray.
Little did I know then I would be part
of a huge resurgence in Australian Sparkling Red.
The Middle to Later years
I spent my first winemaking years (1972
- 1976) in the Clare Valley of South Australia making classic dry white and
red wines from fantastic grapes. But as all winemakers do, by 1983, I was
stretching my abilities and had started making trial batches of sparkling
red from Coonawarra Shiraz. Coonawarra is a premium Shiraz
and Cabernet Sauvignon grapegrowing area in the
South East of South Australia - on the map about half way between Adelaide and Melbourne.
The early experimental tirages were stirred in a
200L drum and filled into bottles by hand. I started making trial my sparkling
shiraz by the "Methode Champenoise" (MC) and to this day I still
use this intensive, time consuming method. The method involves secondary
fermentation, ageing, and subsequent disgorgement all from the one bottle,
thereby giving superior finished wines. By 1985 I was making more sparkling
red, and in early 1988 I released by first commercial Non-Vintage (NV) RumballSparkling Shiraz, which I called SB4 Sparkling
Burgundy. The "SB" merely designates the blend Number, not a
specific vintage year.
In 1994, with the release of the SB16, I changed the name "Sparkling Burgundy"
to Sparkling Shiraz. This was a time when the French winemakers were
demanding names like Champagne, Chablis
and Burgundy not be used as descriptive
words for wine-styles in Australia.
I was very happy to oblige the french,
considering that the sooner I (and Australia) developed
alternatives which were truly Australian, the better. This could not have
been more relevant to a wine that could be truly called one of Australia's
Gradually through the 90's the
popularity of sparkling reds grew, first in Adelaide
(my home town), then Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and Sydney. Traditionally
sparkling reds were drunk on Christmas day in Australia, with cold or hot
roast turkey. Sometimes in Australia
the temperature can get to 40oC (104oF), so cold turkey with salad is a
common Christmas lunch.
1997 was a great year for Coonawara Shiraz and so this became the first year I tiraged a Shiraz
basewine for a Vintage Sparkling Shiraz. There
has been a vintage wine laid down in very year since 1997, except 2001,
from which there was not a good enough wine worthy of the 10 years ageing
on the yeast lees, to which I aspire. These vintage wines will reflect the
absolute traditional Australian sparkling shiraz style as was made from 1886.
In August 1999 I started exporting the NV.Rumball Sparkling Shiraz to Japan. Sales
have grown to about 40% of the sales of Sparkling Shiraz. The Japanese just
love the Aussie style!
USA started in Oct 2000. There were initial trials
and tribulations; now the USA
has settled down to steady growth. The more people in the USA that "discover" sparkling shiraz = turkey =
Thanksgiving, the more that will enjoy my wine.
2001 saw the first (M1) NV Rumball
Sparkling Merlot made. The wine was released in Australia in late 2002, and has
been steadily growing ever since. The Sparkling Merlot is not released
outside of Australia
as this time. The grapes for this wine initially came from McLaren Vale, then Langhorne Creek, but now Coonawarra.
Small amounts have also been sent to
various countries - United Kingdom,
Singapore, Hong Kong and
The period 2002 to 2005 has been a time
of great investment in resources: better Shiraz and Merlot grapes from Coonawarra,
new disgorging and tiraging machinery and bottle handling equipment to
assist tired hands and backs. The result has been fantastic. I can now make
better sparkling reds for the same price - not many can lay claim to this
currently approximately 60 different sparkling red wines on the market in Australia.
These represent a total Australian amount produced of some 350,000 dozen
Many of the producers are small makers (less than 250 dozen) with the main
volume, 80%, ($13.99 AUD per bottle and below) produced in large wineries.
This large volume of wine is mainly made by the Charmat (fermented in tank)
or transfer (fermented in any shape bottle and later transferred to the
bottle you see on the shelf) methods.
Personally I still prefer the Methode Champenoise (MC) for any sparkling
wine, including sparkling reds. The wine is fermented in, and stays in, the
same bottle throughout the making of the sparkling red. The MC process
allows maximum time on lees, giving better middle palate and balance to the
wine. MC also gives finer bubbles, as bubbles reduce in size the longer the
contact with the wine. This then gives a more creamy palate to the wine.
Look for the words "fermented in THIS bottle" on the label. These statement gives you a guarantee of the authenticity
of the Methode Champenoise.
To date I have made 100,000 dozen of sparkling reds for myself and probably
an additional 30,000 dozen in the early years for other people - all by
Methode Champenoise and all by hand with my dedicated staff.
As people from countries other than Australia
discover this truly unique style of wine, the popularity of sparkling reds
There are rumours in the USA
that ex Australian winemakers have started making sparkling reds, and
whilst I don't expect countries such as Japan,
China, Hong Kong, Singapore
will be making the great wine, the style will grow as people find the
tremendous match that sparkling shiraz
is with food. If everyone in the USA
were to do as the Aussies and enjoy a bottle with the roast turkey (at
Thanksgiving in the USA),
then a whole new world of sparkling red would open in the USA.
France will eventually
accept that these Australian Sparkling Reds are as unique and special in
the world of wine as Champagne from the Champagne region and start making a French version.
In the end this Fair Dinkum (Aussie for genuine) Aussie wine is a great lot
of fun, and very tasty with all sorts of food.
It is a wine of discovery, so go and discover - you will love the
Lastly, I will keep making these wines
for as long as I can. I wish I had the knowledge of these Sparkling reds
when I was just starting winemaking as I surely would have started off with
Sparkling Shiraz straight away!
For all those people that keep asking,
the first Vintage Sparkling Shiraz will be released maybe late 2006.
My Best Wishes to all my faithfull Sparkling Red drinkers,