Wine creates a powerful pull

Showcase, Barossa, Seppeltsfield, taste your birth year, wine tasting. Photo / Tourism Australia
Showcase, Barossa, Seppeltsfield, taste your birth year, wine tasting. Photo / Tourism Australia

Wine in New Zealand has become both big business and a big talking point. So anyone arranging an incentive event needs to 'know their onions' when it comes to wine.

Wayne Harris, general manager of planners Go Conference & Incentive in New Zealand, says Kiwis' wine knowledge has grown exponentially - and woe betide the planner who does not arrange wine of a quality consistent with the group's knowledge in any incentive event in Australia.

While New Zealand wine is largely produced in 10 major regions, Australia has more than 2,400 wineries dotted throughout the country's 65 wine regions, producing more than 100 grape varieties. Distinct conditions on either side of the Tasman have left a very different imprint on each country's wine industries.

"Australia's wine regions show a great deal of diversity," says Sally Cope, executive officer of Ultimate Wine Experiences Australia. "It all comes down to three factors - people, place and produce. Each region has a distinct point of difference influenced by its history, landscape and climate."

Many Australian vineyards have been trialling new grape varieties like tempranillo and nebbiolo for some time. For instance, tucked away in a quiet corner in the high country of north-east Victoria, the King Valley has become renowned over 30 years for producing wines made from alternative grape varieties, many crafted by Italian families who have lived in the region for generations. The pre-eminent winery names here include Pizzini, Dal Zotto and Chrismont.

Alfredo Pizzini, founder of the Pizzini winemaking family, believes the King Valley is Australia's most dynamic and diverse wine-making region.

"There is a strong commitment throughout the region to produce a range of varieties and styles; no one is making big, fat, stewed wines here," he says. "We're making wines meant to be enjoyed - not talked about."

However, people are talking about Pizzini's premium wines like Rubacuori (an Italian word translating to Stealer of Hearts) a reserve sangiovese that retails for A$110 per bottle; and the A$135 per bottle Coronomento nebbiolo, with the prices underlining the quality of wine the region is producing.

At neighbouring Rutherglen, new generations of winemakers are working with a collection of diverse varieties, using tried and true traditional methods as well as new production technologies. This has resulted in exciting whites, particularly from the Rhone varietals of marsanne, roussanne and viognier. Some of the country's best sparkling red wines are also found here.

Australia also boasts some of the world's oldest vines; South Australia's Barossa Valley in particular is a viticultural treasure trove of gnarly old vines. But the magic of the Barossa also lies in the diversity of its growing conditions. The Eden Valley produces distinctive cool-climate wine varieties; while the region's flagship shiraz is grown in the warmer, low-lying areas.

Western Australia's Margaret River produces just three per cent of Australia's wine, yet 20 per cent of the country's premium wine. Cullen is a family name long synonymous with the region, having tended one of the oldest vineyards in Western Australia's south-west since planting the first vines in 1971.

Vanya Cullen, a second generation wine maker, gained experience in the 1980s working vintages in Burgundy and California, and has strong commitment to organic winemaking techniques and biodynamics.

"I really want to bring a sense of the land to the glass," says Vanya, recently inducted into the Australian Business Women's 2015 Hall of Fame.

The winery is most famous for its Kevin John Chardonnay, named after Vanya's father and nominated the World's Best Chardonnay by the UK wine bible Decanter magazine in 2007.

But there's more than just cellar door tastings to entice wine buffs to Australian shores.

"Going behind the scenes and meeting the people behind the labels, perhaps learning a little with a masterclass or winery tour and participating in an interactive experience - like cooking classes or wine blending classes - now on offer at many of Australia's best wineries," says Cope.

At Penfold's Magill Estate, groups can become part of the famous wine-making team at the Winemaker's Laboratory and make their own blend from shiraz, grenache and mourvedre, adorned with a personalised label with their name and the title of 'Assistant Wine-Maker'. Seppeltsfield offers a 'Taste Your Birth Year' in their 100-year-old cellar - a rare opportunity to taste a tawny port straight from the barrel made the year you were born.

Ultimate Winery Experiences Australia can act as a central source to create bespoke experiences, including several wineries such as The High Fliers Gourmet Trail, which visits some of the best South Australian, Victorian and Tasmanian wineries on a private air charter.

Holding a business incentive in Australia provides New Zealand wine connoisseurs with the opportunity to add to their sophisticated knowledge of southern hemisphere wines, and talking-point wines to their collection.

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