Growers in Australia's top viticultural regions face a 50% reduction in yields as severe droughts begin to bite.

Across the state of Victoria the prolonged dry spell – which began in 1997 – has reached critical limits.

Without vital reserves of moisture, yields are dramatically reduced. Growers must now decide how much of their grapes to cut off the vine before harvest in a bid to save the remaining crop.

There is also a greater risk of frost caused by dry soils and clear cold nights, grape sunburn in the dry, hot weather, and damage by birds and other animals searching for alternative water supplies. ‘We currently have wallabies and wild deer chewing up our vines and come harvest we expect extreme pressure from cockatoos, wattle birds, ravens and everything else,’ Mount Langi Ghiran grower Damien Sheehan.

The Pyrenees, Grampians, Strathbogie, Bendigo and Heathcote areas in central Victoria are at the heart of the drought but other regions across Australia are also taking precautionary measures to preserve vital water supplies, with the threat the drought could be even worse next year.

Paul Greblo of Sandhurst Ridge winery, near Bendigo, said a drop in yields would not lead to price rises but some vineyards – including his own – could turn the drought to their advantage.

‘In dry years the quality of the fruit is usually very, very good. Depending on how we market our finished produce, we could realise higher prices,’ he said.

Written by Josie Butchart8 January 2003