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10/02/2010

Crops and prices crash

The Murray Valley (Murray-Darling and Swan Hill wine regions) could be headed for the lowest winegrape harvest in more than a decade.

Harvesting of Chardonnay for sparkling wine in early January signalled the start of the 2010 vintage.

On average, Chardonnay yields are down by around 30%, according to Murray Valley Winegrowers CEO Mike Stone.

“The move by many growers to cut back on water and fertiliser is taking its toll, but even Chardonnay that’s been well managed is well down on 2009 production,” he said.

“There are early signs that the main red varieties will also produce lighter crops this year.

“Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon wouldn’t normally be ready for harvesting until late February or early March but already some have reached maturity, which is an indication of reduced yields.”

In the Murray Valley, all winegrape harvests since 1999 have exceeded 300,000 tonnes, peaking in 2005 at 442,000t.

The lowest since 1999 was in 2003 when the Murray Darling and Swan Hill regions produced 312,000t and there’s a possibility that this year’s result could be lower.

Coupled with low yields are continuing low prices, which will result in more growers having to abandon the industry altogether and/or reduce their reliance on wine grapes.

Last year, prices dropped 20% to 40%, depending on variety, and this year is similar with prices for all varieties down 20% to 40% on the 2009 price range.

Murray Valley Winegrowers is repeating the warning it sounded four years ago:

“More and more growers are being forced out of the industry and the day will come when wineries will be dealing with the greater bargaining power of fewer, but much larger, vineyard enterprises”.

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