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20/09/2007

Hunter Valley hopeful in regaining vine area

In 2000 there was a +36% gap in prices in favour of Hunter Valley-grown grapes compared with the average Australian price. In 2006 this gap was 25% and the gap has continued to narrow. We examined the statistics collected by the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation in the May/June issue of the Wine Industry Journal.

By Lawrie Stanford and Lauren Jones

The statistics collected by the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation include Hunter Valley-originating grapes only, not grapes or juice sourced from outside the region and sold as Hunter Valley, including lower and upper regions and the sub-region of Broke Fordwich. As such, there is a disparity between the sales data and the harvest data.

In 2000 there was a +36% gap in prices in favour of Hunter Valley-grown grapes compared with the average Australian price. In 2006 this gap was 25% and the gap has continued to narrow, more so for Hunter Valley red grape varieties.

White grape varieties represent 72% of the Hunter Valley’s production with Chardonnay accounting for half that amount. In fact, Chardonnay, Semillon and Verdelho accounted for 96% of all white grape production in the Hunter Valley in 2006.

Shiraz accounts for 71% of the region’s red grape production. Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot account for 95% of all Hunter Valley-grown red grapes.

Bearing area is on the decline despite the Hunter Valley remaining focused on the select six grape varieties. There was a net planting of 98ha in 2000, yet in 2006 there was net planting of -72ha. The region’s vine area has been in decline since 2004, however, the Hunter looks set to grow by 2% in terms of area over the next two or three years, assuming net removal does not outweigh net plantings.

LOW RAINFALL LEAVES MANY GROWERS CONSIDERING DRY-GROWN PRACTICES

Ken Bray, consultant and grower, of Hunter Vineyard Management Services and committee member of the Hunter Valley Vineyard Association (HVVA) has been in the Hunter Valley since the 1970s when working with Wyndham Estate.

Now managing properties of 7ha, 35ha and 12ha, respectively, Bray expects vine area to remain constant rather than expand.

“The weather conditions preceding the 2007 vintage were similar to the rest of Australia with little rainfall, except for a good downpour during September which gave us a good start. The dry conditions had varying impacts on local vineyards but the resulting fruit was lightweight yet of good quality, again in line with the national average,” Bray said.

Unusual for the Hunter Valley, there were no disease pressures or secondary rot in the fruit.

“From January to May this year, we have only received 60% of our average rainfall for that period so far. Despite forecasts for a wet April, the month has been and gone with no significant rainfall and now there are predictions for no rain until December.

“Growers are changing their viticultural methods to incorporate dry-growing practices but many growers are reluctant to convert completely to dry-grown vineyards as they feel it’s detrimental to the quality of the fruit,” Bray said.

Bruce Tyrrell, managing director of Tyrrell’s Wines, says the AWBC’s estimate of at 2% growth in vine area is fair.

“Only 2% is not a lot of expansion in acreage and water availability will play a key role in keeping area at a minimum.

“Irrigation has been cut back and the long-range weather forecasts are difficult to trust. One report predicts hardly any rain in the foreseeable future while another forecasts significant falls in July and again in September this year,” Tyrrell said.

More than two-thirds of Tyrrell’s Wines’ vineyards are dry-grown, particularly the older vines planted in the best soils.

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