Australia's National Wine Centre may have to be given a further AU$2m (€1.16m) before it can break even.

The Centre, which opened in Adelaide in October last year, had an injection of AU$1.75m (€1.02m) at the end of December. It is running at a loss because of lower-than-expected visitor numbers.

Now the South Australia premier Rob Kerin has said ‘a bit over two million dollars’ may have to be earmarked if the Centre is to break even.

The AU$30m (€17.5m) project is a showcase for the booming Australian wine industry. It features some 10,000 wines from more than 50 regions, tasting halls, a restaurant, a bottle shop and even a working vineyard.

The problem – ironically – is that Adelaide is steeped in wine. McLaren Vale is a mere step to the south, while north and east the city is hedged with major wineries. There are over 40 in the area, and logic suggests that any tourist would sooner visit the real thing than a Wine Centre, no matter how brilliant.

But people are coming. ‘We’re doing great,’ chief executive Bob Mackey told decanter.com. ‘Our visitor target is 170,000 a year, which is 468 a day. We’re getting 350 to 400 a day, so we’ve proved we can operate at full capacity.’

Mackey said numbers were slightly lower than expected because of the current economic downturn and the reluctance of Americans to travel long-haul after 11 September.

‘It might take a little longer than we thought, but it was always the plan that the government of South Australia would sustain us during the launch phase,’ he said, adding that some parts of the Centre might have to be scaled down. ‘The wine tourism desk, for example, is not a profit-maker. We will have to decide whether that will continue to run.’

The Centre has been dogged by controversy, with many in the wine industry suggesting the money could have been spent better elsewhere – such as promoting exports. Politicians too have been vocal. Opposition spokesman Kevin Foley said the state government should concentrate on more important projects.

‘Mr Kerin can never find money for hospitals but he can always find it for the government’s pet projects,’ he said.

Written by Adam Lechmere16 January 2002