The Australian wine industry has found new ways to help the country grapple with its troubled past. Like the United States, Australia has an Indigenous population with vast, varied and sophisticated cultures that thrived for tens of thousands of years before Europeans arrived in 1606. Today, in Australia, as in many former European colonies, the gap between Indigenous people and their non-Indigenous compatriots in the realms of health, economic status and mortality rate remains distressingly wide.\r\n\r\nThe country is currently in ecological crisis, too, which makes a cultural reckoning feel increasingly urgent. This year, wildfires have burned almost 25 million acres of land and affected hundreds of animal and plant species.\r\n\r\nAs Australians process the scale of the disaster and how to best address potential future problems, many experts point to how Indigenous Australians historically set small, controlled fires to target grasses and undergrowth. This would help protect ancient trees and canopy from more destructive blazes.\r\n\r\nIn a similar vein, a growing movement of wine producers in Australia have championed Aboriginal culture. They\u2019ve used wine as a way to forge meaningful, lasting change in First Australian communities.\r\n\r\n\r\nModern Aboriginal Wine Culture\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s a very complicated issue in Australia,\u201d says Gary Green, a Gamilaraay and Githabul from New South Wales and co-founder of Mount Yengo Wines in Australia\u2019s Hunter Valley, regarding support for Indigenous Australian communities. \u201cThere\u2019s a lot of ignorance among the wider community of Australians, but there\u2019s also this fear of appearing racist, so a lot of people don\u2019t ask questions.\r\n\r\n\u201cThere are so many well-meaning people in affluent suburbs who want to support Aboriginal communities and learn more about them, but they don\u2019t know where to start. Wine provides an opportunity for both.\u201d\r\n\r\nGreen, whose father was a successful businessman and leader in the Aboriginal community, has worked all his adult life to help bridge the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations.\r\n\r\n\u201cI have always tried to use brands and companies as a platform to provide opportunity to Aboriginal communities, because you don\u2019t get successful social outcomes without commercial success,\u201d says Green. \u201cWe\u2019re able to make a difference only if we make great wine.\u201d\r\n\r\nAnd in Australia, wine is a big business. Winemaking contributed about 45.5 billion Australian dollars (about $30.04 billion U.S.) to the country\u2019s economy in 2019. Australian wine currently has an annual growth rate of about 3% per year since 2015, according to AgEconPlus.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nMurrin Bridge Vineyard was the first wine business owned by First Australians. It released its first vintage in the early 2000s from Chardonnay and Shiraz vines planted on their own land in 1999. While the response was enthusiastic, the company ultimately closed after the 2005 vintage. Now, companies like Mount Yengo Wines have moved into the niche Murrin Bridge created.\r\n\r\nGreen linked up with Ben Hansberry, a winemaker who also brought 15 spirits brands to the Australian market like Broker\u2019s Gin and Patr\u00f3n Tequila through his former company Blue Sky Beverages. The two introduced Gondwana Wines in 2016, which was rebranded as Mount Yengo last year.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nLike many Australian producers, Mount Yengo uses art made by Indigenous Australians on its labels. Additionally, for every bottle sold, 1 Australian dollar (about 69 U.S. cents) goes to the artist, and 2 Australian dollars (about $1.37 U.S.) helps fund Aboriginal digital literacy programs in remote regions.\r\n\r\n\u201cObviously the funding for literacy programs directly affects the lives of Aboriginal people, but we\u2019ve found that the art on the labels is a conversation starter for people who want to understand more about our culture,\u201d says Green. \u201cWe also decided to use art this year made by a world-renowned artist, professor and curator, Wayne Quilliam, who just happens to be Aboriginal, because we think it breaks stereotypes about Aboriginal people, who get put in this box as simple, unsophisticated people.\u201d\r\n\r\nGreen is also excited about a program that he and Hansberry are considering.\r\n\r\n\u201cBen and I have been invited to an Aboriginal community, way in the north of Australia this year,\u201d he says. \u201cThey have Australia\u2019s one native grape growing there, and they want to see if they can turn them into good wine. To me, that would be the ultimate way to celebrate Australia\u2019s terroir, its past and its future.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\nInspired by the Land\r\n\u201cFor two centuries, Australians borrowed the term \u2018Claret\u2019 to discuss blends of Cabernet and Shiraz, but we stopped doing that and slowly started adopting our own appellation-style naming system,\u201d says Erl Happ, co-owner/winemaker at Margaret River\u2019s Happs Wines, which produces about 15,000 cases per year. \u201cBut if we want to make a truly Australian product, it needs to incorporate Australia\u2019s original people. They have defined the country with their art, their agricultural practices, their deep connection to the land. If Australian wine is going to reflect its true terroir, it has to involve First Australians.\u201d\r\n\r\nIn 1994, Happ established Three Hills, his second vineyard, on the southwestern tip of Australia. The Indian Ocean sits to its west, with the Southern Ocean to the south and east. His goal was to allow the vineyard\u2019s fruits, which receive mellowing maritime influences, to express themselves without the influence of oak.\r\n\r\nHapp is inspired by the Indigenous Australians\u2019 attitude toward land management. It\u2019s a deeply philosophical approach that encompasses reciprocity and sustainability. It gives back to the land as much as it takes. Early settlers \u201cfarmed like First Australians, by working with nature, rather than trying to suppress it,\u201d he says.\r\n\r\nTo that end, Happ avoids insecticides as he believes they are counter to a holistic relationship with nature.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\u201cUsing insecticide is often the worst thing you can do on a farm,\u201d says Happ. \u201cIn nature, there are predators that jump into action when there is a surplus of food available. It\u2019s better to wait until predators arrive, like the cavalry, keen to take care of the problem.\u201d\r\n\r\nAvoiding industrial chemicals and machines can create more work in the vineyard and winery. However, Happ finds that sensitivity, observation and logic in the vineyard\u2014tools he borrows from the First Australian community\u2014is superior in the long run.\r\n\r\n\u201cWhen Europeans came to Australia, they were amazed at the ability of the First Australians to track people, work out where they were going, follow the leads and eventually find them,\u201d he says. \u201cSome would look at my vineyard and be unimpressed, with grass right across the row and no sheet and leaf trimming. I don\u2019t see it that way. I see the shoots and leaves as my solar array, sucking in sunlight and making sugars to create the building blocks for the plant.\u201d\r\n\r\nAn artist and art lover, Happ also wanted to incorporate visual culture. Indigenous Australians have produced art consistently longer than any other group in the world, for more than 30,000 years.\r\n\r\n\u201cFirst Australians who still live in traditional communities often rely on their artwork as a means of getting by,\u201d says Happ. \u201cWe use organizations that support First Australians to help us track down potential artworks. We choose a new work of art for our wine labels every year, pay a fee for the rights for one year, and in that way contribute and give back to the community.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt provides the artist with exposure and gives us a new way to reflect and showcase Australia\u2019s terroir on the outside, as well as the inside, of the bottle.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\nWine and Identity\r\nA country\u2019s wine culture is often used as shorthand for its collective soul. Just think of the way wine is made, marketed and consumed in France or Italy, and the way it reflects our perception of the country, its history and the character of its people.\r\n\r\nMitchelton Wines, a winery with a hotel and spa attached to it in the Goulburn Valley, in Nagambie, Victoria, has opened a gallery dedicated to art from First Nations Peoples. The collection was built over three decades in partnership with Aboriginal art specialist Adam Knight and Mitchelton\u2019s co-owner Gerry Ryan. It represents work from more than 15 First Australian communities and internationally recognized Aboriginal artists, including Gabriella Possum Nungurrayi and Linda Syddick Napaltjarri.\r\n\r\nMitchelton\u2019s decision to add a cavernous, elegantly appointed gallery space, dedicated to what was historically perceived to be \u201cprimitive art,\u201d set in a luxury property that just received a $16 million design and architectural upgrade from Hecker Guthrie, speaks volumes about how Australia wants to define itself now, and tomorrow.