New plantings and excellent conditions during harvest have helped to establish a record vintage in 1998 of 954,500 tonnes. The 1998 grape intake was more than 150,000 tonnes above the low yielding 1997 vintage (798,000 tonnes) and 72,000 tonnes, or 8%, greater than the previous record set in 1996.
Of the total intake 646,000 tonnes were premium winegrapes, easily surpassing the 500,000 in 1996/97. This premium component represents around 68% of the total crush, compared with 35% in 1990. While yields were up an estimated 5%, the surge in premium grape production has resulted from a major vineyard planting program of 25,500 ha in the five years from 1992 to 1996, an increase of 50% in the total area planted of winegrapes since 1992. This represents a vineyard investment program approaching $1 billion and is further evidence of the industry’s shift to the production of quality wine.
Premium red grape intake was up by 42% to 299,000 tonnes and premium red plantings have outpaced premium white this decade as the industry strives to meet increasing domestic and export demand.
Shiraz has increased by 50,000 tonnes to 147,300 tonnes and is second in production only to Chardonnay, whilst Cabernet Sauvignon intake was up 46% to 97,800 tonnes. Merlot increased by 48% to 12,700 tonnes and all other premium red varietals saw double digit growth.
Premium white grape intake increased by 20% to 346,900 tonnes, of which Chardonnay production was 173,000 tonnes—up 30%. Semillon intake increased by over 6,000 tonnes to 57,500 tonnes, while Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Verdelho also increased substantially—up 41%, 21% and 19% respectively.
Non premium varietals showed an increase of 10,000 tonnes against 1997, with Sultana up 18% to 136,100 tonnes, reinforcing its continued versatile role as a neutral white variety in cask, low priced bottled and sparkling wines.
The 1998 record vintage coincides with unprecedented export growth by volume (189.1 million litres, up 21%) and value ($790.8 million, up 33%) for the 12-month period ended May 1998.