1960 Australian Wine Centre opens in Soho, London.

Magazine ad for Australian Wine, 1961

After World War II, wine exports to Britain resumed. To capture more of the British market the Australian Wine Board opened the Australian Wine Centre in Soho, London, in 1960. The centre, over three levels, had a basement with a 1,500-dozen-bottle capacity, a ground-floor shop, and a first-floor lounge and bar for entertaining guests. It was managed by Mr Harold Morris, a British representative of the Wine Board. As well as a full range of Australian sparkling and table wines, Australian sherry, whisky and brandy, it sold Melbourne beer and continental wines.

The Centre ran a series of advertisements in the Evening Standard. The copy read:

Those who are still not familiar with the many Australian wines are in for a pleasant surprise. Discovering just how little it costs to enjoy a good wine is a happy experience. Sherries, rea and white table wines or after-dinner wines – all Australian wines are made in the traditional manner with skills introduced and preserved by continental families who have worked in leading wine-growing areas of the world for generations. And, thanks to a consistent climate, a ‘bad year’ is virtually unknown. Your wine merchant should be able to offer you a variety of Australian wines. Alternatively, you are invited to visit the recently-opened Australian Wine Centre at 25 Frith Street, in the heart of Soho.

The Observer reported that the Centre offered “a very respectable range of Australian wines” and recommended the “Dry Tahbilk Hock for 8 shillings, which ought to go well with oysters”.  The Daily Telegraph‘s recommendation was the Barossa Riesling, reasonably priced at 11 shillings and sixpence. The Telegraph also remarked that the pre-WWII imports of Australian wine had been around 4 million gallons, but in 1960 had recovered only to 1.25 million gallons, a situation the new Australian Wine Centre was hoping to correct. Even more than a decade later, wine was still not one of Australia’s major exports; in 1974-5 when production reached over 36O million litres only 6.5 million litres were exported valued at $5.3 million.

The Australian Wine Centre continued to operate in London through the 1960s and 1970s. The “summer collection” offered in 1974 comprised two bottles each of Gramps Orlando Barossa Riesling, Houghton White Burgundy, Quelltaler Hock, McWilliam’s Cabernet Shiraz, Mildara Cabernet Shiraz and Stonyfell Burgundy – all names very familiar to Aussies of a certain age (like the writer).

The Wine Board-operated Centre closed down in 1982. However, another business of the same name, run by Craig Smith, opened in the English capital in 1989. They are still going and describe themselves this way:

The Australian Wine Centre was situated in the basement of South Australia House, on the Strand, London from 1989 until the building closed at the end of 1994. Prior to that the business had been in Putney, south-west London since 1983.

Since the Wine Centre on the Strand closed, the business has been run at its current location near Windsor in Berkshire. Over the years we have been awarded the International Wine Challenge Australian Merchant of the Year four times.

In June 2021, Australia and the United Kingdom reached an in-principle free trade agreement which would mean most Australian goods, including wine, would eventually enter the UK duty-free. The value of wine exports to the UK in the year to 31 March 2021 was $461 million.

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