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Australia reports ‘near perfect’ vintage with record grape crush

Australia’s grape crush is reported to be the largest on record, up 31% on last year,  after a  near perfect “unicorn” season.

Winemaking in Barossa (image: Wines of Australia)

Vine growers across Australia have reportedy harvested 2.03 million tonnes of wine grapes this year, setting a new record, the latest figures from Wine Australia show.  The large 2021 crush is around 31% higher than the smaller 2020 vintage and 19% above the 2019 vintage, which was roughly in line with the ten year average.  It exceeds the previous record 2017 vintage.

The organisation’s National Vintage Report, released this week, said the season had been characterised by near-perfect growing and ripening conditions across most states and regions.

Wine Australia general manager, corporate affairs and regulation Rachel Triggs described 2021 as a “unicorn” due to the rare combination of weather conditions that had led to a crop of exceptional quality and size.

“Good fruit set, plenty of water at the right time, lack of heatwaves, low disease pressure, and favorable harvest conditions have resulted in a high-yielding, high quality vintage,” she said. “This vintage provides an opportunity for depleted inventory levels to be restored, ensuring we have the supply we need to take up new export opportunities.”

The value of the crush rose 36% to AUS$1.56 billion, with the average purchase price up 1% to Aus$701/tonne, the highest since 2008.

Regional contribution

South Australia was the largest contributor, with an estimated harvest of 1.06 million tonnes, representing around 52% of the total harvest, followed by New South Wales with 29% (580,875 tonnes), and Victoria on 17% (334,834 tonnes).

The split between red and white grapes was 57% to 43% – with the percentage of white grapes falling to its lowest level since 2004.

The red grape crush increase 37% on last year’s vintage to 1.16 million tonnes, dominated by an increased volume of Shiraz, which grew 41% on last year’s crush (538,402 tonnes). As a result, it represented 46% of all red varieties or 27% of the total crush.

Meanwhile white varieties saw an increase of 25% on 2020 to 864,946 tonnes.  However,the average value of whites rose 11% to $538 per tonne, while the value of reds fell 4%, to $833 per tonne.

Shifting demand

Triggs pointed out that this was the first time the value of red varieties had fallen since 2014, and the increasing value of the whites indicated a shift in demand.

“To make the most of our opportunities in markets such as the US and the UK, the balance in supply between red and white winegrapes may need to change,” she cautioned.

“We are working closely with Austrade to grow our exports in emerging Asian wine markets such as South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand, where there has been strong growth in recent times and where consumers strongly favour red wine.”

It comes after a tough year for Australian producers, who saw exports to China plummet 98% after the Chinese government imposed stringent tariffs on the sector with red wine taking the biggest hit.

Trigg added that producer’s pre-harvest concerns that the Chinese tariffs would effect grape prices had not been realised, however the increased value partly reflected a larger contribution of higher-priced fruit.

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