State of New South Wales now 100% in drought

The state of New South Wales (NSW) in Australia is now entirely in drought, officials have confirmed, as winemakers emerge from an exceptionally dry, but high quality, 2018 vintage.

New South Wales was officially listed as “100% in drought” on Wednesday, with 23% of the region deemed to be in “intense drought”, leading state and federal governments to offer A$576m (£330m; $430m) in emergency relief funding. Around 60% of neighbouring Queensland is also in drought, as well as parts of Victoria and South Australia.

Across Southern Australia, 2018 saw the second-driest autumn on record, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, with rainfall 57mm (2.24in) below average, with less than 10mm of rain was recorded in parts of NSW in July, and drier than normal conditions are forecast in coming months, as reported by the BBC.

The 2018 Australian grape harvest wrapped up in April/May, with producers on the whole reporting that the warm, dry weather conditions in the run up to harvest helped produce grapes with concentration and intensity across all regions, prising the quality of what many have described as an exceptional vintage.

“The longer warm, sunny conditions of the ripening days and the cool nights has made the quality exceptional,” said Lisa Bennier, business manager of the Wine Grape Council of South Australia. Similarly, Clare Valley’s Wakefield Wines stated that the 2018 vintage for Shiraz was one of the best vintage in “possibly the past century”.

However Wine Australia is already urging producers to look ahead to prepare for the 2019 vintage, particularly following a drier vintage such as 2018, offering advice on how irrigation and fertiliser can be used most efficiently to assist vine recovery.

“Vine nutrition and the role of irrigation are important for growers to consider post-harvest, and this year in particular there has been lower rainfall across Australia to assist vine recovery”, said Dr Liz Waters, general manager for research, development and extension at Wine Australia.

“If vines are water-stressed during harvest, the canopy may not have the capacity to ripen fruit and restore carbohydrates at the same time. This means the vines are more reliant on post-harvest irrigation and nutrition.

“One of the main benefits of improving post-harvest care in drier vintages is that leaves are better maintained, encouraging photosynthesis that maximises carbohydrate production, which is then stored in reserves with nutrients for the vine to draw from in the next season.”

While this drought has been intense and sustained, the “millennium drought” of 1997-2005 is still considered to have been the most devastating affecting almost 50% of Australia’s agricultural land. That event coincided with two El Nino, which are often associated with droughts in Australia.

El Niño is an abnormal climate pattern caused by the warming of surface waters in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, which affects sprouting, flowering and subsequently the fruit set of bunches.

This weather event occurred again in 2016, affecting harvest volumes in both Argentina and Chile. 

Australia isn’t the only country to have been affected by extreme weather patterns this year.

EXTREME WEATHER

A severe drought across Europe, combined with wildfires, frost and freak hailstorms, led 2017 crop levels to drop to a historic 56-year low.  Across Europe, production fell by 14.6%. As all three are among the world’s largest producers, losses are expected to have an immediate impact on overall statistics for worldwide wine production, as well as the global supply of bulk wine.

In South Africa, the drought-struck 2018 vintage came in at 15% smaller on the previous year, which was nevertheless not as small as previously feared. According to industry body South African Wine Industry Information and Systems (SAWIS), the 2018 harvest totalled 1,220,920 tonnes, 15% less than in 2017 but above initial estimates in what has proved to be a challenging vintage in the southern tip of Africa; which has been struck by the worst drought in 100 years.

As well as the drought, there were also losses in some areas, notably Worcester, Robertson and Northern Cape, from frost in September and October.

Despite the difficulties, the hot, dry weather kept the vineyards largely disease and pest-free and while December and January were hot – hitting 35°C at times – there were no intense heatwaves and the end of the growing season grew cooler, leading to better colour and flavour in later ripening varieties. Overall, quality across regions is deemed very high as much of the loss in overall volume was due to smaller berries and bunches which, conversely, should lead to a greater concentration of flavour and colour.

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