Contract cutbacks squeeze wineries

Last updated 05:00 15/08/2009

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Grapes could give way to kiwifruit and avocados in Gisborne as grape growers reel from cutbacks by Pernod Ricard, the country's biggest wine company.

Gisborne Grape Growers Society president John Clarke expects that the coming harvest in his region will drop by a fifth as Pernod Ricard cancels or buys out contracts with growers.

"The generally accepted figure seems to be a cut of 5000 tonnes 20 per cent of the Gisborne crop."

Growers who lost their contracts with Pernod Ricard would have great difficulty finding other buyers for their grapes, he said. Chardonnay and pinot noir were the varieties most affected, as consumer demand has switched to sauvignon blanc.

Mr Clarke did not expect things to improve in the short term for Gisborne, the country's third-biggest wine region, producing about 8 per cent of the 2009 harvest.

"Some growers will change to other varieties [of grapes] and some will switch to cropping, such as kiwifruit, avocados, citrus or apples," he said.

Grower Tom Brodie said he was now selling a 20-hectare vineyard because it was no longer economic to grow grapes there.

"To buy the contract out they are offering $150 a tonne, with the tonnage based on the last three vintages," he said. Normally he received up to $1800 a tonne.

Constellation New Zealand was also reducing its intake of Gisborne grapes but its compensation packages were much more generous, Mr Brodie said. Pernod Ricard's general manager of viticulture, Tony Hoksbergen, said the figure of 5000 tonnes was "significantly overstated" but would not give any details.

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- The Dominion Post

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