Grapes of wrath: Red wine glut leaves crops to wither on the vine

South Australian wineries have so much red wine in their tanks they are telling grapegrowers there’s no room left to buy their upcoming vintage, with vast numbers of Shiraz and Cabernet bunches destined to wither on the vines.

Nov 10, 2022, updated Nov 16, 2022
Image: Tom Aldahn/InDaily

Image: Tom Aldahn/InDaily

The Riverland is the engine room for the state’s wine industry, producing 60 per cent of its grapes, but growers are facing dire predictions for the next two harvests.

Chaffey MP Tim Whetstone said Riverland wine executives reported this week that 40 per cent of Riverland Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz grown for the harvest starting in January has no home.

“That could mean 100,000 tonnes of fruit that will potentially be dropped on the ground,” he said.

“(Predictions are that) the China bubble has burst and the majority of wineries and wine wholesalers will buy cool climate premium wines at lower Riverland price (meaning those growers will struggle to cover costs).”

Previously sought-after red wine grapes Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon dominate vineyard production across the state. The two were the major wine varieties exported to China where September figures show the market has shrunk to about $16 million.

Wine Australia’s latest report released yesterday shows there is no drop in the nation’s red wine glut as the industry continues to grapple with the bottom falling out of the state’s $700 million export market to China.

South Australian Wine Industry Association chief executive officer Brian Smedley said other regions most likely to be affected, as they grow predominantly red wine grapes, include the Barossa, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and the Coonawarra.

“Some have homes for their grapes but for others, they will have to be looking at what alternatives there are,” he said, adding that this could include harvesting later or changing cropping approaches.

Crisis meetings have been held across the Riverland after growers in Australia’s largest wine region, accounting for 32 per cent of the annual crush, were told earlier this year by multinational Accolade Wines that it would compensate growers to mothball red grape vines or switch to white varieties.

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Some of the Riverland’s more than 900 grape growers already have reduced crop sizes by chopping vine canopies and halving vine trunks in a bid to stimulate growth in the long term.

While Smedley acknowledged challenges for this year’s red grape harvest, he said there were still positives including white wine grapes still being in demand.

Red wine makes up 60 per cent of the South Australian market and the 2021 vintage was a stand-out for exceptional quality and high yields.

Smedley said September wine export figures also showed there were gains for South Australia in the United States, Canada, Malaysia, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Indonesia, Japan and Taiwan, but there was a long way to go in clawing back China export volumes.

Wine Australia market insights manager Peter Bailey said the Production, Sales and Inventory Report 2022 released yesterday was based on survey responses from some of Australia’s largest wine producers.

“The challenges facing the Australian grape and wine community over the past couple of years has been well documented and this annual Production, Sales and Inventory Report for 2021–22 captures the impacts across the production chain,” he said.

While he said total wine production in 2021-2022 was down 12 per cent nationally, total sales combining both domestic and export, were also down by nine per cent to 1.06 billion litres cancelling out any impact on stored wine.

The industry has been hit by lower cellar door sales during COVID, supply chain issues, rising export costs and a drop in export markets.

“This has led to the national inventory rising for the second year in a row.”

A letter sent earlier this year to CCW Cooperative, which represents Riverland growers in price negotiations with Accolade Wines, said more wine is in storage across Australia than the Riverland produces in a single vintage.

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