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Pinot Gris looks set to remain a firm favourite

By Peter Bailey and Lauren Jones

Total area of Pinot Gris under vine has grown four-fold from 329ha in 2003–04 to 1352ha in 2005–06. While currently representing 0.8% of total winegrape area, Pinot Gris contributed 22% to the overall increase in Australian vineyard area since 2003–04.

Bearing area of Pinot Gris under vine has grown three-fold from 207ha in 2003–04 to 659ha in 2005–06, contributing 6% to the overall increase in total vineyard bearing area over that period. Pinot Gris represented 12% of total winegrape plantings in 2005–06 with an increase of 405ha from 2003–04 (75ha planted) to 2005–06 (480ha planted).

The amount of Pinot Gris yet to come on stream is sizeable, with 52% of the Pinot Gris vineyard area yet to bear fruit. In comparison, just 6% of Australia’s total winegrape vineyard area is yet to bear fruit. Notwithstanding unfavourable growing conditions, Pinot Gris production can be expected to increase in the next few years as more vines start bearing fruit.

The Riverina leads the way for the variety in terms of both production and planting of Pinot Gris, accounting for a third of its production in 2005–06. Other significant producers include Padthaway, Eden Valley and the Adelaide Hills in South Australia, the Murray-Darling and the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, and Tasmania. Regions planting Pinot Gris in 2005–06 included the Murray-Darling (Victoria and New South Wales), South Australia’s Coonawarra, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and the Clare Valley, the Alpine Valleys and Beechworth in Victoria and Orange in New South Wales.

Data collected via the Australian Regional Winegrape Crush Survey (ARWCS) indicates that Pinot Gris is in demand from winemakers. In 2005–06, winemakers would have preferred to crush almost a quarter more of the variety than was actually crushed. Forward estimates indicate that demand for Pinot Gris is expected to exceed supply over the next five years. This demand has resulted in Pinot Gris being priced at a premium to all winegrapes. According to the ARWCS, in 2005–06 the average price per tonne for Pinot Gris was $1088 compared with $603/t for all winegrapes.

Pinot Gris is still a minor contributor to Australian wine exports. In the 12 months to April 2007, Pinot Gris contributed 2.9 million litres to total Australian wine exports of 797 million litres, based on the reported content of the wines. However, it should be noted that this may not represent the total amount of Pinot Gris exported due to a significant proportion of wine exported not specifying the varietal.

Casella Wines based in the Riverina region in New South Wales has 1400ha of Pinot Gris under vine (known as Pinot Grigio to the company) and crushed 5000 tonnes during the 2007 vintage. Casella Wines chief winemaker, Alan Kennett, says that amount is significantly reduced from the expected crush but with enough water over the coming growing season, he expects the total crush figure to triple to around 15,000 tonnes for the 2008 vintage.

“All our Pinot Grigio is sourced from contract growers mainly located in warm irrigated regions including Sunraysia with one vineyard in the Adelaide Hills. We have to be able to grow the fruit cost effectively to suit our wines’ price point,” Kennett said.

Casella Wines produces three labels of Pinot Gris including the domestically sold Yenda label, the mass-exported [yellow tail] and the higher price point Reserve [yellow tail]. The supply of fruit for the [yellow tail] wine is restrained according to supply yet 10,000–20,000 cases of the wine were produced in 2006. Around 2000 cases of the Yenda label was produced in the same year. Fruit from the Adelaide Hills vineyard and premium quality fruit from the warm irrigated regions is dedicated to the Reserve label.

“From a winemaking perspective we are seeing some problems with Pinot Grigio from colour pickup which we are rectifying by minimising skin contact and carefully fining the juice,” Kennett said.

The article was published in the July/August 2007 issue of Australian Viticulture



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