Oz crop ruined by weather

Severe weather in parts of Australia has had a dramatic affect on the country’s wine growing regions.

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By  Laura Barnes Published  December 1, 2006

Severe weather in parts of Australia has had a dramatic affect on the country’s wine growing regions. Rising temperatures and severe droughts throughout the summer, followed by a drop in temperature and frost late last month, has meant acres of crops have been damaged. And according to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, by 2030 temperatures in most wine regions are estimated to rise by as much as 1.7°C. “Global warming is certainly an issue, but to what extent the effect will be is still unknown, and that is the greatest fear,” said Steve Meckiff, viticulturist, Cape Mentelle Vineyards. “However, generally speaking there will be an adverse effect on wine quality in warm to hot wine producing regions, whereas to the other extreme, cold and mild regions may see a slight improvement,” he added. The gradual rise in temperature has already affected some harvests, with picking occurring earlier in the year. The last two vintages from Penfolds in South Australia, for example, have been the earliest on record, as the temperatures have led to droughts in the region. “We have just had the driest winter on record and have experienced a serious drought this summer, so we don’t see it getting any better. Water management is now the number one agenda for grape growers,” commented Justin Knock, winemaker, Penfolds, part of Foster’s Group Limited. South Australia has also experienced severe frosts, with an estimated 200,000 tonnes of grapes lost in the South East region in part due to the earlier droughts, which has meant the ground was too dry to hold warmth. A late October freeze also destroyed as much as US $61 million worth of grapes in Victoria’s Yarra Valley, with Heathcote and McLaren Vale also being affected by extreme weather conditions. “The frosts have devastated many of the Eastern states, and this can be largely attributed to the lack of rainfall and the dryness of the soil. Even in Margaret River where we have sufficient rain, our annual rainfall is down by 400mm; it is going to take a biblical flood to fill rivers back to where they should be,” commented Meckiff. Despite the loss of crops this year, some critics have hinted that the droughts and frosts — while creating a short term loss for growers — has a long term benefit for the Australian wine industry, as it will reduce vintage stocks and help the Antipodean nation get over the current glut in wine production.

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