Heat and fires decimate Australian vintage

  • Tuesday 10 February 2009

Australia’s grape crop is expected to be at least 15% less than the 2008 vintage following a two-week heatwave across most of the country.

After initial estimates put the harvest at between 1.7m and 1.8m tonnes - on par with the 2008 harvest - industry experts now believe the crop could be much smaller.

‘It’s likely to be about 1.5m tonnes - 300,000 tonnes less than we predicted in December,’ Wine Grape Growers Australia CEO, Mark McKenzie said yesterday.

He added that a reduced harvest would ‘bring supply very sharply back in to balance’.

In 2007, 2003 and 2001, crops dropped as low as 1.4m tonnes, compared with 1.9m tonnes harvested between 2004 and 2006.

Record temperatures on Saturday fuelled deadly bushfires in Victoria causing further losses in vineyards already badly affected by the heatwave and other seasonal factors.

  • See eyewitness reports and Roundstone winery destroyed, Chandon damaged, vineyards lost

    Saturday brought an equal record temperatures in the industry’s large-volume areas. At Renmark in the Riverland, temperatures hit 48.2C (118.8F), with Mildura in the Murray-Darling and Griffith in the Riverina recording temperatures of 47C (116.6F) and 46C (114.8F) respectively.

    Industry representatives said that vineyards whose owners had irrigated well, many by buying water, had survived better than poorly-irrigated vines which had thin canopies.

    ‘Small canopies would have fried the hell out of them [the grapes],’ said Tony Ingle, Angove Family Wines' chief winemaker.

    The Riverland crop is expected to down by 15% to 20%.

    Darren de Bortoli, head of de Bortoli Wines, said the Riverina, hit by hailstorms early in the growing season, would have its crop reduced by 10%.

    Murray Valley Winegrowers’ CEO, Mike Stone, estimated that the Murray-Darling region had now lost 30% of its expected tonnage, representing a loss of AUS$44m.

    Cooler climate regions, which have far less production, have been harder hit than the warm regions, the McLaren Vale crop will be almost halved, according to d’Arenberg CEO, Chester Osborn. Osborn says the region will produce 35,000 tonnes rather than the normal 65,000 tonnes.

    A drought during spring had caused major losses to Grenache crops but Shiraz, about 75% of the region’s crop, was still plentiful.

    Reports from other regions:

    Yarra Valley: 50% less than average

    Barossa Valley: 20%-30% less than average

    Clare: average

    Coonawarra: 40%-50% less than average

    Mudgee: slightly below average

    Hunter Valley: less than 10% down

    Margaret River: below average

    Tasmania: 20% less than average

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