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1997 Vintage Report

Australia's winemakers have crushed a record 500,000 tonnes of premium grapes in the 1997 vintage.

The total vintage was 800,000 tonnes, down on the record 880,000 tonnes of 1996, reflecting a drop in the intake of non-premium varietal grapes.

The Winemakers' Federation of Australia (WFA) has reported that the record level of premium grapes processed in the 1997 vintage reflect the industry's major restructuring over the past decade, a major premium planting program and a resolute commitment to the pursuit of quality wine production. President of the WFA, Mr Stephen Shelmerdine, said that results of the vintage survey followed hot on the heels of strong premium bottled wine growth in the domestic market and continued dramatic growth in wine exports.

Key results from the 1997 WFA Australian Winegrape Vintage Survey include:

Premium intake

Premium intake up 6.2% to 501,000 tonnes, a new record

  • Premium red intake up 1.7% to 211,000 tonnes
  • Premium white intake up 9,7% to 290,000 tonnes

Total Intake

Total intake down 9.8% to 797,000 tonnes

  • At 797,000 tonnes the 1997 vintage is the second highest on record
  • The decline in intake (86,000) is fully attributable to a decline in non-premium and multi-purpose varieties

Seasonal conditions

Yields for most varieties, but particularly red varieties, were lower than expected, due to several factors:

  • excessive heat in February 1997
  • localised frost during flowering (Sunraysia and Riverland)
  • the bi-annual nature of the Sultana crop. 1997 Sultana yields were expected to be low following high yields in 1996.

New plantings

  • Although yields on a tonne/hectare basis were down for premium red and premium white, the contribution to production from new bearing areas outweighed any decline.
  • there have been approximately 20,000 ha of premium vines planted in the last five years

By variety

Table 1 gives a comparison of 1997 intake against 1996 intage. Key results include:

  • Chardonnay up 34% to 132,000 tonnes
  • Shiraz up 14% to 100,000 tonnes
  • Semillon up 7% to 53,000 tonnes
  • Intake for most other premium varieties was down in 1997
  • Sultana intake down 43% to 114,000 tonnes

Projections

  • Based on new plantings coming on stream, total intake is projected to reach 901,000 tonnes in 1998, comprising
  • 312,000 tonnes premium white (up 9%)
  • 254,000 tonnes premium red (up 20%)

Chief Winemaker for BRL Hardy, Mr Peter Dawson, said there were signs 1997 would be one of the best in many years. He said early apprehension brought on by the expectation of a reduced grape intake and difficult ripening conditions following early February heatwave conditions across most of south-eastern Australia had been dispelled. 'Ripening conditions actually turned out to be quite good, with a delayed and prolonged ripening season during an extremely dry Indian summer period,' Mr Dawson said. 'BRL Hardy's tonnage of premium grape varieties is well up on last year's record results and considering the superb quality of most premium varieties, we are delighted.'

He said the company's total intake of premium white grape varieties, including Chardonnay, Riesling, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc was 19% up on 1996, with Chardonnay alone up 60%. Premium red varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot and Pinot Noir were expected to be 18% up on last year, with Shiraz 34% up. But BRL Hardy's large reduction in the intake of neutral white grape varieties has meant a slightly smaller vintage, down by 9% on last year.

Vic Patrick from Mildara Blass said quality was not a problem anywhere because of a relatively dry summer and no significant rainfall during harvest. The exception was the Hunter Valley, where 11-13 inches rain caused some problems with maturity. However, some good quality parcels of fruit came in later, towards end of vintage. Generally crops in eastern regions (Mudgee, Cowra, Strathbogie Ranges, Yarra Valley) were marginally below estimates. In the MIA and Sunraysia districts Mildara's intake was up to estimate and of fine quality. In SA (Clare, Barossa, Langhorne Creek, McLaren Vale) cropping levels were below estimate, and significantly below that of last year. Quality of the fruit was extremely good.

Table 1. 1997 winegrape intake compare to 1996.
1996 1997
Variety tonnes tonnes % change
Cabernet Franc
5,749
3,931
-31.6
Cabernet Sauvignon
71,077
67,334
-5.3
Malbec
3,458
2,932
-15.2
Merlot
9,225
8,901
-3.5
Pinot Noir
16,177
14,601
-9.7
Ruby Cabernet
14,410
13,525
-6.1
Shiraz
87,684
100,119
14.2
Premium red
207,779
211,343
1.7
Grenache
28,527
23,256
-18.5
Mataro
10,536
8,274
-21.5
Other red
16,916
15,793
-6.6
Total red
263,757
258,666
-1.9
Chardonnay
98,732
131,998
33.7
Chenin Blanc
17,625
15,023
-14.8
Colombard
31,163
30,820
-1.1
Muscadelle
4,678
3,878
-17.1
Riesling
40,370
34,284
-15.1
Sauvignon Blanc
13,818
12,545
-9.2
Semillon
49,350
52,702
6.8
Traminer
5,532
4,465
-19.3
Verdelho
2,789
4,015
44.0
Premium white
264,056
289,732
9.7
Crouchen
3,978
2,009
-34.7
Doradillo
16,866
11,025
-34.6
MGB
86,277
80,771
-6.4
Palomino/Pedro
11,717
8,418
-28.2
Sultana
198,279
114,038
-42.5
Trebbiano
17,947
14,430
-19.6
Other white
21,342
17,478
-18.1
Total white
619,561
537,901
-13.2
Total premium
471,835
501,075
6.2
Total grapes
883,318
796,567
-9.8