WA wine – a victim of its own success?

FOR many years Western Australia has been touted as a premium boutique producer.

But, with a huge amount of investment and increasing numbers of vines hitting the soils, how long can many of the established wineries remain confident of holding on to the premium and boutique tags they have worked so hard to earn?

The State’s 2000-2001 crush has been estimated at between 10 and 15 per cent up on last year’s production of 39,700 tonnes, much of this increase in red varieties.

With yet further plantings happening in viticulture areas from Harvey through to Karridale, Western Australians are likely to see another record harvest next year.

As you drive through the Margaret River region it already is getting difficult to see where new plantings will be able to take root.

The question must be asked whether this expansion will start to bring issues such as quality control to the fore. Will specific regional identification labels be required in the future?

Will consumers start to question further the value of new labels if high prices are matched by the quality of the wine in the bottle?

The questions may soon start to include the environmental issues such as private bushland disappearing and the extreme demands putting pressure on the area’s watertable.

But it is not just the Margaret River region that could suffer problems over the next few years. The Great Southern region may be heading along the same path.

The Great Southern would now have more area under vine than Margaret River and, while the area strives to maintain label integrity (as does Margaret River), it also may begin to inherit the same problems.

You begin to wonder when the fire sales will start appearing and recently established vineyards start going under the hammer.

Have the WA wine industry or Agwest an obligation to ensure that vines going in the ground have been able to establish firm contracts in distributing the product?

Will there physically be the infrastructure – enough wineries, tanks and barrels – to accommodate this massive growth in wine production, or is it all a myth that there is excess wine hanging around in tanks throughout Western Australia?

So who crushes what?

Goundrey Wines in Mt Barker crushed approximately 2,100 tonnes of fruit for the 2001 vintage. All very sound quality and could, if sales progress, suffer a small shortfall between vintages.

Between its two wineries in Mt Barker and Margaret River, Howard Park wines crushed about 2,200 tonnes. Its biggest volume of fruit came from the parcels of shiraz, most of which is earmarked for the expanding overseas market in the US. Howard Park’s record haul may put a strain on the winery’s capacity, and additional infrastructure is likely to be added next year.

Sandalford Wines crushed about 1,600 tonnes from plantings across the State. With an increased focus on the overseas market, Sandalford will still be looking to expand over the next few years

Plantagenet Winery in Mt Barker crushed about 1,400 tonnes for the 2001 vintage and Geoff Cook from distributor Lionel Samson says that it was a 50-50 split between whites and reds.

Vasse Felix winery put an approximate 2,700 tonnes through the crusher this year with a slight increase in red varieties as new plantings have come on. Not to0 many problems in having any surplus fruit at Vasse.

Houghtons Winery was again on top of the pops, with a massive 13,500 tonnes being crushed through its wineries in the Swan Valley and new processing facilities in Nannup. Like Vasse Felix, Houghtons will not have any problems in coping with increases.

Evans and Tate is slowly closing the gap on runaway leaders Houghtons and crushed a shareholders’ dream total of approximately 7,500 tonnes. Evans and Tate continues to expand and its massive facilities at Jindong have the ability to add infrastructure as the need arises.

New boys on the block Palandri Wines crushed a total of about 2,895 tonnes. It is listed in Palandri’s prospectus that the winery hopes to crush 5,000 tonnes for the next vintage. Palandri is looking at both the interstate market and oversea to achieve expectations.

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