South Australia — still the wine state

Despite the massive  re-shaping of Australia’s wine landscape now under way, South Australia remains — and looks set to remain — not just our biggest wine producer, but our biggest premium-wine producer.

The massive explosion of vine planting and re-writing of our wine map shows in preliminary data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), indicating that 32,773 hectares (37 per cent) of Australia’s 88,474 hectares of grape vines in the ground at the end of 1997 had been planted since 1991.

There’s been unprecedented activity in all states, led by South Australia with 15,530 hectares or 47 per cent of those new plantings. Victoria comes in second with 7,881 hectares (24 per cent) followed by New South Wales with 6,986 (21 per cent), Western Australia with 1,543 hectares (5 per cent), Queensland with 583 hectares and Tasmania with 245.

New plantings since 1991 expressed as a per centage increase, not surprisingly, show big growth for the States starting on low bases: Tasmania up 103 per cent to 482 hectares, Queensland up 75 per cent to 1,359 hectares and Western Australia up 64 per cent to 3,958 hectares.

But we begin to see the scale of expansion with New South Wales up 55 per cent to 19,738 hectares and Victoria up 46 per cent to 25,102 hectares.

South Australia’s new 15,530 hectares bring its total to 37, 376. Given its high starting base, that’s a massive lift of 71 per cent in just 7 years.

But if they say you can’t be all things to all people, South Australia’s wine industry is not listening. An exceptionally diversity of geology and climate means that ‘The Wine State’ is just that.

It has the hot stretches of the Murray River producing bulk table, sparkling and fortified wines for the budget and middle market sectors.

It has Coonawarra, Padthaway, Langhorne Creek, McLaren Vale, the Adelaide Hills, the Barossa Valley, Eden Valley and Clare Valley producing  (collectively) cutting-edge Cabernet, Chardonnay, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Grenache and sparkling wine.

Many of those same regions, plus the Adelaide Plains, back up with commercial quantities of high-quality, mid-priced table wines for world markets.

And it has world-class fortified material emerging, especially from the warm Barossa, McLaren Vale and Clare Valley.

Grape production figures confirm why South Australia is still ‘The Wine State” as we move into the era of high-quality, regional wines.

If we arbitrarily chop out the 192,275 tonne grape output of the warm Murray River and Adelaide Plains in 1997, South Australia’s remaining areas still produced 179,258 tonnes, equivalent to around 12.5 million dozen 750ml bottles. But we ain’t seem nothin’ yet!

The 150 year old Barossa-Eden Region, long the biggest-volume premium producer is about to lose its crown to the Limestone Coast, embracing Coonawarra and Padthaway.

In 1997, wine makers drew 57,983 tonnes of grapes (4 million dozen 750ml bottles) from Barossa-Eden and 48,512 (3.4 million dozen) from the Limestone Coast.

By 2002, wine makers estimate their intakes will reach 79,763 tonnes (5.6 million dozen) from Barossa-Eden and 99,630 (7 million dozen) from the Limestone Coast. In other words the Limestone Coast’s output will have doubled in five years, making it by far our most valuable premium-wine growing area.

By then total South Australian wine-grape production will have risen to 635,470 tonnes (44.5 million dozen), with the Adelaide Hills contributing 10,624 (0.7 million dozen); Clare Valley 28,946 (2 million dozen)); Langhorne Creek 40,381 (2.8 million dozen); and McLaren Vale 55,694 (3.9 million dozen).

South Australia’s five year grape projections from 1997 to 2002 reflect the massive global swing to red wine consumption (triggered partly by the ‘French paradox’ and other positive links between moderate consumption of red wine and health.

Figures released by South Australia’s Grape Industry Board and Grape Advisory Committee (based on wine-maker actual reported usage for 1997 and estimates for 2002) predict that while white-grape usage will increase 33 per cent from 205,950 to 274,135 tonnes, reds will explode by 118 per cent from 165,583 to 361,325 tonnes.

All those extra grapes have to be made into wine and the wine has to be drunk by somebody. The first part requires huge new investments in wine-making and storage equipment.

Assuming all goes well in that department, there’ll be one heck of a lot of wine splashing around the world (not just Australia) by 2002 — perhaps bringing a little price relief.

Provided demand for premium wines remains buoyant, the new century offers a brilliant future for South Australia as it builds on its old strengths and develops the new. From a drinkers point of view it’s good to know that the best is yet to come from a totally renewed ‘Wine State’.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 1998 & 2007