Sauvignon blanc crop down

KAT PICKFORD
Last updated 13:55 27/01/2012

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A significant drop in this year's sauvignon blanc grape yield could finally boost Marlborough's saturated wine industry as uncontracted growers begin to look for buyers and higher prices.

Some growers are reporting a 30 per cent fall in sauvignon blanc grapes since pre-flowering estimates, as unfavourable weather conditions affected crops after thinning.

The expected smaller harvest could boost prices for spot growers, who in previous years have struggled to find buyers after a series of excellent harvests created a sauvignon blanc grape glut.

New Zealand Wine Growers' Stuart Smith said a shortage of sauvignon blanc grapes would benefit un-contracted growers.

"Absolutely it will be a smaller harvest this year, it could even be less than estimated," he said.

"It's been a long time coming for spot growers who haven't had a market for the last few years."

Owner of Radford Estate Wines Graham Giles, who grows some un-contracted grapes, usually for his own use, said he had interested buyers for the first time in three years.

"It's not for me to say who they are but players of all sizes have been making inquiries," he said.

Growers were being cautious about speculating on prices, but some in the industry spoken to by The Marlborough Express had heard of offers up to $1800 per tonne for Marlborough grapes.

Owner of Tiki Wines and Vineyards Royce McKean said most growers had thinned large grape clusters to reduce yields.

"We have all seen the result of having too much sauvignon blanc grapes, and that is the last thing we wanted," he said.

"Now it's looking downwards of 30 per cent from pre-flowering estimates and given that sav is our main driver in Marlborough, it should make for an interesting few months ahead."

He said spot growers could be in a position to receive a higher price if wineries with high demand had a shortage of grapes.

"Wineries have made a significant investment in foreign markets on the back of having an over supply for the last few years and will have to source grapes elsewhere to fulfil that demand."

Viticulture consultant David Jordan said grape yields would vary depending on the area and it would be difficult to say how it would affect the region as a whole.

He does not expect a huge hike in the price of grapes this year, but thought it could be the beginning of change.

"The cost of grapes is a big part in the cost of running a winery and it takes a while for these things to work through" he said.

Mr Smith said the later vintage will result in a late wine release and coupled with the grape shortage, he expects to see some tension in the supply and demand balance.

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"It's the law of averages. Some years, as we have experienced, vintages will run above average and some years, maybe for years, we will experience below-average vintages."

- The Marlborough Express

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