The Australian wine industry this year experienced its first year-on-year harvest decline since 1997, with an estimated crush of 1.36 million tonnes–10% lower than last year despite an approximate 6% increase in bearing areas. Reduced crop levels were experienced across almost all varieties. However, given the industry’s current red wine stock levels, the lower vintage should assist in redressing the abundant stock position of certain red varietals.

Red winegrape production decreased by 46,000 tonnes to 802,000 tonnes and accounted for 59% of total production. Specialist white winegrape production decreased by 69,000 tonnes to 480,000 tonnes, compounding the existing shortage of some premium white varietals.

Overall, the dry season conditions have again helped to deliver a sound and generally disease-free vintage, with lower yields resulting in grapes of above average to excellent quality.

The decline in the 2003 vintage is largely attributable to widespread lower drought-affected yields in both cool and warm climate regions, and cool weather during initial bud formation prior to the 2002 harvest.

In 2003, production of red varietals was down about 5% on 2002 and 12% on anticipated production (based on normal season conditions) while production of white varietals decreased by approximately 16% on 2002.

Production of the top two specialist red winegrapes, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, decreased by 2% and 10% respectively on the 2002 vintage. Shiraz production decreased marginally by 7,000 tonnes to 320,000 tonnes, maintaining its position as Australia’s largest volume winegrape variety, accounting for 24% of total production.

Cabernet Sauvignon production decreased by 25,000 tonnes to 233,000 tonnes, accounting for 17% of total production. After a period of record growth, Merlot production decreased by 8% to 97,000 tonnes, representing 7% of the total winegrape crush. Moving against the vintage trend, Pinot Noir recorded a 34% increase, with production rising to 29,000 tonnes. The difficult seasonable conditions experienced by many of Australia’s cool climate regions during the 2002 vintage, combined with increased bearing areas in 2003, may explain this result. Grenache production fell significantly (28%) in 2003 to 19,000 tonnes.

Chardonnay posted a decrease of 20,000 tonnes to 236,000 tonnes compared to 2002, but still represents 17% of the total grape production. Semillon was down by 25% or 25,000 tonnes to 75,000 tonnes compared to 2002. Colombard also contributed to the vintage decline, with production down from 60,000 tonnes in 2002 to 56,000 tonnes in 2003. Riesling moved against the vintage trend, lifting production by 7% from 28,000 tonnes to 30,000 tonnes.

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