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Australian growers shift grape varieties as tastes change

A global oversupply of red wine alongside changing consumer tastes has resulted in Australian wine producers shifting varieties. 

Winemaking in Barossa (image: Wines of Australia)

Currently, according to Wine Australia, around 94% of grapes come from only 20 varieties with Shiraz taking up around 25% and Cabernet Sauvignon around 15%, meaning these big reds make up around a third of wine produced in the country.

But the recent change in consumer behaviour to lighter reds, a glut of wine production around the world, and the complications produced from the country’s tariff situation with China, has resulted in producers moving away from their traditional staple grapes.

Lesser known grapes such as Italy’s fiano or other varieties from the Mediterranean are being grafted onto vines, as producers look to diversify their offering.

In the Riverland region of South Australia, wineries are also urging grape growers to move towards these alternative varieties, it has been reported.

Talking to ABC News, second-generation grower Jim Markeas has grafted more than a fifth of his Mallee Estate vineyards from Cabernet Sauvignon to grape varieties from Spain, Greece, Italy, and Georgia, although he said it was “a small but interesting market.”

The publication also spoke to Suzie Harris, a Hynam-based grower, who are now including Pinot Noir in its offer with graftings occurring across the course of one season.

She said: “We just find that consumers are drinking a lot more light reds, and so we wanted to be able to tap into that market. We believe that it will be drunk widely into the future.”

Grafting isn’t without risks, as the new varieties may not take, but associate professor Steve Goodman from the University of Adelaide thought it was worth the work, due to the changing market conditions, but that it may be harder to export than Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon.

He said: “Alternative varieties together have become a big segment of the market, which has become attractive. We have started to see consumers wanting to explore.”

The news comes as China and Australia have agreed to a five-month review of the wine tariffs that have threatened to derail the Aussie wine industry over the last three years.

However, analysts say that even if the tariffs were removed overnight it would still take two years to clear Australia’s wine surplus.

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