Production volume of Australia’s 2019 vintage turned out to be higher than expected despite early predictions warning that the vintage could be the lowest in a decade in the country’s key wine making region Barossa, due to frost, hail and drought.

The Australian winegrape crush for 2019 is estimated to be 1.73 million tonnes, 1% below the 10-year average, according to the National Vintage Report 2019 released by Wine Australia.

The report is done based on a survey of winemakers conducted in May–June 2019. Responses were received from over 570 businesses, estimated to account for 88% of all winegrapes crushed in 2019.

This figure is “well above early predictions” that the harvest would be 10–20% down on the 2018 vintage, according to the wine trade organisation.

Many regions did suffer significant losses, including the Barossa, Adelaide Hills and Clare Valley due to drought and heat, which were the worst affected in tonnage terms, but yields were generally not as low as originally feared, according to Wine Australia Chief Executive Officer Andreas Clark.

In the Barossa, early reports were saying the vintage is the lowest in a decade and could be down by as much as 50% from last year, due to frost and hail early in the season followed with drought. In Clare Valley, McLaren Vale, Riverland water stress caused by drought was a main challenge for winegrowers.

shiraz harvest
Photo source: Barossa Grape & Wine Association

However, Wine Australia said the effects of heat and dryness were mitigated by good canopy management and irrigation regimes, while the dryer season reduced disease pressure, and the lower yields were offset by exceptional colour and flavour in the resulting wines.

The Limestone Coast regions (Coonawarra, Padthaway and Wrattonbully) produced much larger crops than their low-yielding 2018 vintage, while the warm inland regions (Riverland, Riverina and Murray Darling–Swan Hill) had very similar crops to last year, demonstrating the ability of managed irrigation, where available, to offset the effects of heat and dryness.

“It needs to be remembered that Australia frequently experiences drier conditions and we have been modifying our viticultural techniques, including canopy management and irrigation, to suit our climate for decades,” Clark explains.

Despite lower yields, the trade org reported higher grape prices with the average value of winegrapes reaching AU$664 per tonne, up by more than AU$50 per tonne on the 2018 average value of AU$611 per tonne.

For the 2019 vintage, red varieties generally fared better in a challenging vintage like this year compared with white varieties.

Red crush up by 16,224 tonnes compared with 2018, while whites were down 66,949 tonnes, led by a sharp by in Chardonnay. Its harvest was down by 47,975 tonnes or 12% to 356,250 tonnes – its lowest crush in the past five years.

Meanwhile, Glera grape, aka Presecco grape in Italy used for Prosecco wine production in Prosecco DOC, saw a sharp rise of 42% in yields to to 9,936 tonnes thanks to its growing popularity in Australia, though the name use of Prosecco to describe the grape in Australia still remains controversial.

Shiraz remained the dominant variety with 418,364 tonnes – accounting for 44% of the red crush and 24% of the total crush – despite its crush being down by 2% compared with last year.