University to explore influence of iconic Hunter Valley wine region

Vines, wine and identity

25 August 2014

Australians are shifting from beer to wine, and now a University of Newcastle project is set to provide critical insight into what role the Hunter Valley has played in influencing the nation's drinkers to change.

Professor John GermovFunded as part of the Australian Research Council's (ARC) 2014 Linkage Projects, the study aims to uncover the iconic region's history, and how Hunter Valley producers have changed the Australian culture by creating a taste for their wines.

Chief Investigator Professor John Germov heads a research team, including UON historian Dr Julie McIntyre, Dr David Dunstan of Monash University and Professor James Simpson of the Carlos III University of Madrid, which will explore how wine production helped shape the identity of the Hunter Valley.

The Hunter Valley wine industry generates more than half a billion dollars in income and attracts millions of tourists each year.

The world-first historical sociological study of the region, Vines, Wine and Identity: The Hunter Valley NSW and Changing Australian Taste, will enlist the expertise of some of the industry's most well-known figures, including highly regarded wine-maker Brian McGuigan, along with Jay Tulloch and Phil Ryan.

"Australia is a leader in global wine trade and tourism, and producers across the country have been instrumental in creating a new Australian drinking culture. The Hunter's role in this changing drinking culture has been pivotal.

"Yet little is known about the Hunter Valley's wine producing community, or how wine production has shaped regional  identity while it has contributed to a change in national taste for wine," Professor Germov said.

The Hunter Valley wine industry includes more than 120 wineries and 230 wine-related businesses. Each year more than 2.2 million tourists visit the area, and – including wine production – it generates a regional yearly income of approximately $520.6 million.

Dr McIntyre said the University of Newcastle was the only Australian university actively undertaking interdisciplinary wine studies research in the humanities and social sciences.

"This will be the first time the story of the Hunter's wine history and heritage will be presented to the wider community. We expect it to become a model for future studies of wine region identity and influence," Dr McIntyre said.

The four-year project has secured $170,000 in funding from the ARC. An example of the University's commitment to producing world-class research through regional partnerships, the project will involve collaboration with both the Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association and the Newcastle Regional Museum. The museum will play a key role in identifying and cataloguing artefacts to curate a 12 week travelling exhibition.

The ARC Linkage Projects program supports eligible research and development projects formed as collaborative efforts between higher education researchers and other parts of the national innovation system. 

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