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Murray Valley loses millions

This year’s winegrape harvest in the Murray Valley (Murray-Darling & Swan Hill NSW/VIC wine regions) was worth $58 million less than the 2005 harvest.

The latest Wine Grape Crush Survey, compiled by the Victorian Department of Primary Industries for the Murray Valley Winegrape Industry Advisory Committee, reveals a total harvest this year of 415,937 tonnes, down 26,693 tonnes. White varieties accounted for 235,848 tonnes (down from 256,851 tonnes), while red varieties came in at 180,089 tonnes (down from 185,778 tonnes).

The most popular of the premium varieties were Chardonnay (136,030 tonnes), Shiraz (65,515 tonnes), Cabernet Sauvignon (66,634 tonnes), Merlot (31,428 tonnes) and Colombard (26,764 tonnes). The multi-purpose varieties Sultana and Gordo produced 43,655 tonnes (Sultana 13,216 tonnes & Gordo 30,439 tonnes). The Gordo volume was up marginally on 2005, but the use of Sultana in winemaking sunk by a further 20,784 tonnes.

While wineries reduced their purchase of grapes by 9.4%, the portion classified in the survey as “winery grown” increased by 25%. In 2005 wineries processed about 43,000 tonnes of their own fruit grown in the Murray Valley – their intake this year increased to more than 54,000 tonnes.

The value of the harvest overall was about $155 million, compared with $213 million in 2005. Part of the $58 million drop can be attributed to the reduced crush. However, the continuing decline in grape prices is the major reason.

The biggest price losers in 12 months were Chardonnay (- 41%), Shiraz (- 24%) and, most surprisingly, Viognier (- 34%). Viognier is supposedly a “demand” variety and a price drop of this magnitude cannot be justified.

The biggest price losers of the past two years have been: • Chardonnay – 57% • Viognier – 43% • Shiraz – 36% • Merlot – 28% • Cabernet Sauvignon – 26%

Many growers would be amazed at the average prices revealed by the latest crush survey, says Murray Valley Winegrowers’ CEO Mike Stone. “The survey shows premium reds ranging between $362/tonne and $399/tonne whereas in the spot market most offers were well under $200/tonne.

“The spot market price for Chardonnay was also commonly under $200/tonne, but the survey average was $382/tonne. Of course, the survey also doesn’t account for the estimated 52,000 tonnes that weren’t even harvested in the Murray Valley.”

Growers should treat the results of the survey with caution and never use the data alone to make planting decisions. Thorough research should be done before any replanting or expansion is contemplated. Part of that research should include studying the full Murray Valley survey and surveys from other regions.

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