South Australia still produces more wine than any other state and looks like maintaining its dominance. In the three years to 1992 it averaged 59 per cent of the national crush of around 553 thousand tonnes. By 1996, according to ABARE predictions, it should still account for 58 per cent of a 712 thousand tonne crush.
It appears South Australia dominates premium wine production even more than it does total output. By my back-of-envelope figurings, the state currently accounts for almost three quarters of fine-wine output. It may lose about 3 per cent market share to NSW over the next three vintages, but in absolute terms its growth in premium grape output dwarfs that of any other state.
The back of the envelope tells me South Australia’s 148 thousand tonnes of grapes from premium growing areas will bloom to 213 thousand tonnes by 1996. Compare that to NSW’s increase from 29 to 51.1 thousand tonnes, Victoria’s 18.1 to 26.2 thousand, and Western Australia’s 7.6 to 12.5 thousand
Thanks to the export push, Australia’s wine-grape output, between 1992 and 1996, will have grown by about 160,000 tonnes, equivalent to roughly 11.2 million dozen 750 mL bottles.
About two thirds of that growth will come from premium growing areas with the balance from high-output stretches of the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers.
The swing towards premium areas reflects not just export demand but a changing domestic market as well. We now export as much bottled red as we sell locally and whites will soon be the same. Domestically, bulk wine sales are falling while, in the past year at least, bottled reds, whites, and sparkling wines have all shown strong growth. Clearly those investing in vineyards are punting that the trend to higher quality here and overseas will continue.
I suppose it’s natural that expansion should be greatest where vines have a good track record and, just as important, there exists the infrastructure to maintain the vines, harvest grapes and make wine.
Hence, the explosive growth in established areas in South Australia. ABARE projects these tonnage growths (in thousands) between 1992 and 1996: Barossa Valley 54.3 to 71.2; the central area embracing part of the Adelaide Hills but mainly McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek 33.2 to 53; Clare Valley 15.9 to 22.2; Coonawarra/Padthaway and other isolated pockets in the region 44.5 to 66.6.
In absolute tonnage, then, Coonawarra/Padthaway shows the greatest growth of any premium wine growing area in Australia and, I predict, in the years ahead it will finally outstrip the Barossa in total crush.
The shift to higher quality is reflected, too, in ABARE projections tipping extraordinary growth for the best wine varieties.
Amongst reds, cabernet sauvignon and the related Bordeaux variety, merlot are set to increase from a three year average to 1992 of 44.5 thousand tonnes (8 per cent of the crush) to 80.3 thousand tonnes in 1996 (11.2 per cent of projected crush). Cabernet on its own is expected to grow from 40.5 thousand tonnes to 72.6 thousand tonnes.
That leaves shiraz, by a small margin, the most important red variety, with growth expected from 60.8 thousand to 80.2 thousand tonnes.
Chardonnay production should rocket in the same period from 43,448 to 89,200 tonnes – an increase of about 3.2 million cases of finished wine. By 1996 Semillon (54,700 tonnes) looks like overtaking riesling (52 thousand tonnes) as the second biggest white grape. Punters predicting the demise of riesling note its projected growth of over 8000 tonnes in the four years to 1996.
What the bare figures don’t reveal, of course, is the phenomenal amount of work being done to lift fruit quality in vineyards. Not only are we seeing a dramatic shift to better growing regions and premium grape varieties, but all along the riverlands (a dirty word to so-called connoisseurs) we’re seeing quality increases brought about by better management.
No, Griffith will never make a cabernet the equal of a Coonawarra, nor will Sunraysia make Mornington Peninsula chardonnay. But quality from warm, irrigated areas is rising steadily. Just taste Peter McLaren’s Salisbury Estate wines to see what can be done.
What we’re witnessing now, on a large scale, is the lifting of the average quality of Australian wines both in bottle and bulk. Wine making techniques were pretty well perfected a decade ago. It’s the revolution in the national vineyard now delivering a tweak to quality.