Australia’s wine industry is rebounding after two tough years, with a rare ‘goldilocks’ vintage and record-size grape crush.
- Grape growers enjoyed a rare combination of good fruit set, mild temperatures, low disease pressure and favourable harvest conditions
- South Australia harvested 52 per cent of the national total, NSW 29 per cent and Victoria 17 per cent
- The vintage is an opportunity to replenish reduced stocks due to smaller vintages the last two years
Wine grape growers harvested a 2.03 million tonne crop this year — the largest on record. The 2021 crush was 31 per cent higher than the 2020 vintage and 19 per cent above the 2019 vintage.
It was welcome news for an industry that has struggled through Chinese tariffs and below-average production in 2019 and 2020.
Wine Australia’s General Manager, Corporate Affairs and Regulation Rachel Triggs said it was exciting to see yields 17 per cent above the 10 year average of 1.74 million tonnes.
“We’ve described it as a unicorn vintage because there’s a very rare combination of events leading to both exceptional quality and really good crop size,” Ms Triggs said.
The 2021 crush has been estimated to be worth $1.56 billion dollars — up $400 million on last year.
Grape growers were also being paid more: Wine Australia has found the average grape price increased by one per cent to $701 a tonne — the highest price since 2008.
“Prices are still strong and we shouldn’t speculate as to whether this large vintage will mean that there will be an oversupply,” Ms Triggs said.
Recovery follows successive small vintages
The last couple of vintages have been ravaged by drought and fires and the lower production led to a large drawdown of wine stocks.
As a result, Wine Australia estimated at the start of the year that stocks of Australian wine and other grape products had fallen by approximately 70 million litres (4 per cent) to 1.7 billion litres, the lowest amount since 2011/2012.
The drawdown on stocks as explained, in part, why grape prices have held up this year despite lower demand for Australian wine into China — a country that was once Australia’s largest export market.
“This big vintage is welcome insofar as it will put some supply back into those largely depleted stocks,” Ms Triggs said.
Australia’s strong vintage contrasted with competing countries which have suffered setbacks.
Ms Triggs said while she did not want to speculate what could happen with prices, New Zealand had experienced a low vintage, California was in the grip of drought and at this stage it appeared the French crop could be down significantly due to frost.
A boost for grape growers
South Australia remains the largest wine state — contributing 52 per cent of the crush — followed by New South Wales which harvested about 29 per cent.
Ashley Ratcliff is a grape grower and wine maker in Australia’s largest wine-producing region, the Riverland in South Australia, and he said he was pleased with this year’s vintage.
“Our yields were probably above-average but probably more exciting is the quality of wines coming out of the vintage are exceptional,” Mr Ratcliff said.
“We just didn’t have the extreme weather conditions we’ve had in the past, while we had a little bit of heat, it came at the right time, and we had a bit of wet weather, but it came at the right time.”
Mr Ratcliff said there were definitely some price challenges on the horizon, but to go into the future with a strong vintage was so much better than facing it with a weak one.
Red wine has remained dominant with red grapes making up 57 per cent of the crush with 1.16 million tonnes produced, that was up 37 per cent compared to last year.
The white varieties comprised 864.946 tonnes, an increase of 25 per cent, however, overall white variety’s share of the crush reduced to 43 per cent, the lowest since 2004.
Shiraz was still the main variety with a crush of 538,402 tonnes, up 41 per cent on last year but less well-known red varieties such as Malbec/Mourvedre and Durif also saw big increases.
Hunter Valley still feeling drought ‘hangover’
Producers in the NSW Hunter Valley said it was not quite the goldilocks year for them.
“We haven’t seen the confluence of all of the great things you want to happen in a vintage happening in the Hunter in 2021,” Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association president Christina Tulloch said.
“But the wines that have been made are excellent quality, just not as many of them as we would have liked.”
Ms Tulloch said she had to let some fruit go to waste after late January rain hampered picking and tonnage was down 15 per cent on earlier predictions.
“And that wasn’t just fruit that we sourced from the Hunter Valley, that’s also fruit that we sourced from other regions in NSW and some of that was because of the wet weather but some of it is also a bit of a hangover from the drought conditions of the previous couple of years,” she said.
“We were quite on the brink, and then the rain did stop and the sun came out and we were able to get in and pick the fruit but there were some small parcels that we just had to let go because of disease pressure.”
Ms Tulloch said the 2022 vintage will be when the loss of the Chinese market will begin to sting.
“The domestic market has been incredibly positive over the past 18 months but we just don’t have the population to soak up that sort of volume that was going to China,” she said.
“What we’re going to see will be very interesting come 2022 vintage, because we didn’t get to see the impact of the China situation in the 2021 vintage, but we’ll certainly start to see that in 2022 particularly now that there is such good stocks of red wine from this great vintage.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to continue to see those sorts of yields and find a place for them to all go without China unfortunately.”