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Harvest up on last year but down on the 2005 record
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At just under half complete, the 2008 Australian winegrape harvest is expected to be in the range of 1.55 to 1.65 million tonnes. This is below the record 2005 harvest of 1.925 million tonnes but higher than the drought and frost affected 2007 harvest of 1.397 million tonnes.
While yields per hectare in 2008 were below the long run average, the current higher production base of the Australian wine industry means this assessment will place 2008 in the top five harvests on record.
The 2008 harvest commenced a few weeks early in most regions, but was not generally as early as in 2007. A short burst of very hot weather around the New Year is largely responsible for accelerating the harvest. However, milder weather followed and slowed the ripening process again.
Generally, a compressed harvest period is expected. While the warm-inland and more northerly (earlier ripening) regions are a significant way through their harvest, the cooler-climate regions are in the early stages of harvest and future weather events may still alter current expectations.
Nationally, the increase in crush compared to last year is the result of an overall increase in yields per hectare combined with a marginal increase in bearing area. Red yields are expected to be up 20–25% on last year while white yields are expected to be up around 5%. However, yields in both instances are still below the long run average.
The crush from the warm-inland regions is expected to be marginally up on last year with marginal increases in yields and bearing areas. In contrast, the cooler-climate crush is expected to be around 40% up on last year principally due to yield increases as opposed to new bearing areas.
Water availability is the key driver of the warm-inland result. While water reserves in the Murray Darling catchment area remain very low when measured against long-term averages, reserves have built-up to allow some improvement of water allocations over the season and significant amounts of water have been purchased from the upper reaches of the Murray and transferred to the lower reaches. In particular:
• The Riverina district has an 80% water allocation and had well above-average freshening rains in November/December that should produce at least an average crop (at least 20% up on last year);
• Improved water allocations in December 2007 for the Riverland (up from 16% to 32%) and significant water purchasing in the region are expected to result in a crop slightly up on last year; and
• In Murray Darling/Swan Hill, considerably less water was available than in the 2007 season and this situation was only partially off-set by water trading. Tonnages are expected to be 10–15% down on last year.
The red crush in the warm inland regions is forecast to be 5–10% greater than last year while whites are expected to be down marginally. This is the result of:
• water restrictions impacting to a greater extent the ‘thirstier’ whites,
• commercial decisions to divert scarce water from white to reds,
• Murray Darling/Swan Hill being hit harder this season than it was last season by water restrictions combined with the fact that whites make up a larger proportion of its production base.
In the cooler climate districts the crush is expected to be significantly higher than 2007 due to:
• minimal carry-over effects in the 2008 harvest of frost damage to the 2007 harvest (contrary to expectations), and
• above average rainfall in many regions during November/December.
In the cooler-climate regions, the red crush is expected to be around 45% up on last year while whites were up by around 30%. Reds bounced back better than anticipated after being hit harder than whites by the adverse weather conditions (drought and frost) in 2007 and anticipated carry-over effects from that year not eventuating. Reds also account for a greater proportion of the cool climate harvest.
Several factors point to a good outlook for quality in overall terms. Most importantly, it has been a relatively disease free season for most areas except for a few districts xperiencing unseasonal summer rains. In the warm-inland regions, smaller berry sizes and lower than average bunch weights are expected to intensify colour and flavour. In the cooler-climate regions, a combination of rain and sunshine at close-to-optimal times is expected to lead high quality outcomes.
Lawrie Stanford Manager – Information and Analysis Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation
Peter Carmalt Survey Coordinator Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation
This assessment represents the first of two assessments of the national crop from the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation (AWBC). The release date (which may be subject to harvest progress) for the subsequent report is as follows: AWBC Vintage Report: First half of June 2008.