Before Europeans arrived on the continent of Australia, there were at least 300,000 native aborigines living on the land. English captain James Cook sailed to the area in 1770 and mapped out the region, dubbing it New South Wales. New South Wales appealed to the English as an ideal place for a penal colony. Between 1788 and 1850, British ships unloaded more than 162,000 convicts to settle in Australia. The man at the helm of the first fleet was Captain Arthur Phillip. When he returned with more prisoners in 1788, he was carrying something very important to the future of Australia's wine industry -- European grape vines [sources: Dunn and McCreadie, A Nice Drop].
As settlers got a feel for the land over the years, they discovered which areas were best for cultivating which crops. Some farmers moved south and west to take advantage of the better wine-growing climates. It took more than a hundred years for Australian wineries to begin to produce high-quality wines. For many years, Australia produced a large variety of fortified wines, or wines that had brandy or other alcohol added to them. These are known as "plonk," or cheap, wines. In the 1950s and 1960s, Australian winemakers started turning their attention to the production of fine wines [sources: Total Travel, A Nice Drop].
In 1983, the Wine Industry Association of Western Australia was founded. This organization was created to set standards for the wines produced in the state and to improve and promote the crop [source: WIAWA]. As more Australian wineries have begun to produce more high-quality wines, annual festivals and events have become part of the local calendars of many regions.
Understanding the physical geography of the region and how it has affected viticulture requires a closer look at the land. Read on to learn about Western Australia's wine agriculture.