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Have your say: Are you prepared to pull up vines?

Anita Donaldson

Early mainstream media reports from last week's Australian Wine Industry Outlook Conference, presented by the Winemakers' Federation of Australia and Winetitles, have largely centred on the debate about harvest size in Australia. John Grant, president of Constellation Wines Australia, was part of a panel convened to discuss the issue and his view was "one in five" vine rows in Australia was a row too much. He said the industry needed to reduce production by about 20%.

Early predictions are the 2009 Australian harvest will be of similar size to 2008, at 1.8 to 1.9 million tonnes with current demand at around 1.5 million tonnes.

There were also views expressed at Outlook that smaller vineyards and wineries would continue to face enormous pressure and would be replaced by bigger operations.

At the end of the 'on the couch' panel discussion into this issue, moderator Michael Pascoe summed up the atmosphere of belt-tightening and pressured margins by asking the audience: “how many of you in this room would pull out your vines?” None in the audience put up a hand. It's sobering times. We've had one high-profile wine industry figure tell us at Winetitles that the Outlook Conference was "a watershed day for the Australian industry".

But it's hard to see grapegrowers who are committed to the industry being prepared to uproot vines. The South Australian Government-sponsored vine pull of the 1970s has been long-lamented for the subsequent and compounding loss of quality wine production from those aged vines.

Farmers are generally a resilient (and stubborn) lot. Some may continue to explore other options to diversify their crops — almonds, mandarins, olives — and keep the vines they have nurtured thus-far.

Brian Simpson, chief executive of Riverina-based Wine Grapes Marketing Board wrote in the November issue of Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker that "less than 1% [of fruit] has been left on vines" in his region. Much of this may be attributed to the success of Casella Wines' mega-brand, Yellowtail, which we've heard from sources in the US wine media, "is doing well and continues to grow in the US $5.99 to $6.99 price bracket" — economic crisis notwithstanding.

Where would industry be without it? When the next Yellowtail crops up, will we have the crop to sustain it?

Tell us your view: Will you pull out as much as one in five of your vine rows?

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