Foster’s is planning to truck 4,500 tonnes of grapes from Western Australia to South Australia to cope with shortages in supply.
The drought and water shortage is expected to cut Australia’s 2008 grape crop by about 30%.
The latest forecast from the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation is for a 1.22m tonnes crop in 2008 compared with 1.47m tonnes in 2007 and 1.9m tonnes in 2006, a ‘normal’ year.
Foster’s has signed one-off contracts with 30 growers in Western Australia to buy Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. About 100 truckloads of fruit will be hauled 2000km across the Nullarbor Plain to Foster’s Bilyara winery at Nuriootpa in the Barossa Valley, beginning in February.
Foster’s says the venture will compensate for a shortage of fruit in its own vineyards in the eastern states.
The company will only say the grapes will be used ‘in a number of Foster’s wine brands yet to be determined by the winemakers’ but it seems likely they will
be used for some export wines because the 18m-case Bilyara winery is the major production centre of all Foster’s export wines.
Transporting must and grapes is not new. Southcorp, which was taken over by Foster’s in 2004, hauled WA grapes to the eastern states some years ago, and bulk producer Tinlins last year hauled 3,100 tonnes of Western Australian fruit and must to McLaren Vale in South Australia at a cost of AUS$5m.
Hunter Valley-based company Hope Estate has since 2001 been transporting must from up to 250 tonnes of grapes from its Donnybrook vineyard in Western Australia’s Geographe region to Pokolbin in the Hunter Valley, a 3½ -day, 3,200km journey.
Foster’s director of wine production Stuart McNab said that Foster’s in the past had transported fruit from the Hunter Valley to the Wolf Blass winery and had the expertise needed to make the WA venture successful.
The managing director of Hope Estate, Michael Hope, said that transporting must added about AUS$500 a tonne, or about 50c a bottle, to the cost of production.
‘But from a management point of view, it’s much easier having all winemaking under the one roof and simpler for our overseas customers when they visit,’ he said.
There are also quality benefits. ‘Cold soaking and gentle agitation during transit give amazing colour and fine tannin extraction.’
Written by Chris Snow