My Valentines: Australian wine industry outlook

February 14, 2013

I know it is Valentines day, but I could not care less. Today I would like to draw your attention to a topic right at my heart, the Australian wine industry.

The questions which occupieds me most is what can we expect during the next few years after the “wine lake burst its banks”, overproduction made producer prices drop and many businesses collapsed in the wake of overplanting and overproduction.

Is the boom and bust of the primary industry in grape and wine production coming to an end any time soon?

According to a recent study by the International Wine and Spirit Research (IWSR) commissioned by Vinexpo, this will not be the case. The Australian wine industry is contracting further (by about 15%) whereas global wine production will,only shrink by less than 3%.

But in the long run (longer than 5 years from now) prospects are much better. And this is what I am interested in. Sure there will be less volume, but better quality and better prices. The adjustment will not make everybody happy though.

But I am confident that I can continue my boutique vineyard once the restructuring is completed. One of my daughters is also keen to let this opportunity not slip away. This should make me optimistic too.

Cheers to you all, and happy Valentines day.

Critter wines ?

January 22, 2013

Critter wine labels

Screen shot of the search result: critter wines

What are critter wines, you may ask?

Well, especially in Australia vintners and wine-makers seems to love to put pictures of cute little animals on to their labels. They select mostly marsupials but also other little animals which call Australia their home are to be found.

So on any super market shelf in Australia you will find bottles of wine with penguins, turtles, owls, emus, brolgas (a crane), and of course koalas, wallabies and kangaroos on their labels.

These are “critter wines”.

I found various entries on “critter wines” in the blogoshere with interesting essays and ruminations about this kind of wine labels, the quality associated with the products and the marketing of these wines. One of the main question is “do they all suck”? Of course not. But some do.

Many of these critter wines show a high level of quality. One of the most famous labels is yellow tail, owned by Casella Wines, one of the biggest family-owned enterprise in the Australian wine industry.

But because of the strong Australian dollar even a successful enterprise like Casella Wines struggels especially when they are exposed significantly to the US wine market.

Let us hope that Casella Wines can manage to stay in business. Then we can continue to enjoy their critter wines. The wine blog epicurious lists the ‘2007 Reserve Pinot Grigio’ (South Eastern Australia) by yellow tail($15) as one of the top five critter wines.

I guess this vintage is gone by now. I should try their Pinot Grigio although this is not my favourite grape variety.


Vineyard work at Two Hills

January 20, 2011

Un-attended vines

A mothballed vineyard is not a pretty sight, especially not after downy mildew had gone through it. It was so humid this spring that mildew was a real problem and we missed to treat the outbreak in good time. Luckily it was only downy and not powdery mildew. The difference is shown in the next picture.

The two mildews (with a spelling mistake)


Mothballed vineyards react forcefully to being chopped off at the top. If no spurs or canes are left there, the vines respond to the brutal treatement with increased and vigorous growth of side shoots all over the place. These need to be removed.

So what did I do during my holidays on the farm?

I was “desucking”, as it is called colloquially. Every morning from about seven to nine I walked through the Sauvignon Blanc and the Merlot blocks of our vineyard and brushed the suckers (side shoots) off.

The work is easy. It is ritualistic and has an almost religious quality. You bend down in front of the vine (and show your respect) while breaking out all the shoots except the ones on the top.

After my work of “de-sucking”

The fruit of hard labour: clean vines everywhere

Unfortunately, I could not finish the two other blocks, the Pinot Noir and the Chardonnay. Next time I will be smarter and take longer holidays.

And out they go: The exodus of vintners in Australia

April 29, 2010

The recent ABC Landline report nicely summarizes the predicament of the Australian winegrowers. A$ 250 per tonne for your fruit is just not covering costs. Grape growing has no future, it seems. I find it quite shocking somehow. The documentary depicts the individual detiny in a very touching way.

Click on the link below and watch this very informative film.

ABC Landline

Climate change and the vineyard

February 26, 2010

Two Hills Vineyard

Most of my libertarian friends are avid and passionate non-believers in global warning and climate change. They fiercely contest the validity of many research results. This sometimes reminds me of religious zealotry. However, one has to say that their opponents do not hesitate to falsify data and blackmail the public emotionally and otherwise. But many libertarians live in a constant state of denial when it comes to climate change. Well, so be it. I do not know where to stand in this debate but I would categorize myself as an “unremitting sceptic” in this regard.

Having said that, the changing climate pattern over the last two decades in my own vineyard and observations from vineyards around me cannot be ignored. Recently, Prof. Edward ‘Snow’ Barlow, professor of horticulture and viticulture and head of the School of Land and Environment (Agriculture and Food Systems) at the University of Melbourne and a practising viticulturist (he has a 24 ha vineyard in the Strathbogie Ranges) has published his new research findings about climate change and its effects on Victorian viticulture. An article in The Age by Jeni Port (10 January 2010) alerted me to this research.

One of the main trends in Victoria seems to be that vintage time moved forward considerably since 1982. In one location at the Mornington Peninsula it has come forward by 40 days in 40 years for Pinot Noir and 32 days for Chardonnay. At other locations, for instance at Tahbilk, one of Victoria’s oldest winery, picking days have fast tracked by 20 days.

Since we established our own vineyard (Two Hills Vineyard) in Glenburn in 1996-97 we had a high degree of variations in our growing seasons. But 10-12 growing seasons is not long if you want to see patterns. After all, we are the only vineyard in the location and comparative data are few and far between.

Our grapes

The Cabernet which we pulled out in 2001 might under these changing conditions been able to ripen the fruit after all. Should we have left it in? These and many more questions beg an answer. What will an earlier harvest mean for us? Will our early ripening varieties produce better yields or a higher quality of fruit? In contrast to other production locations we have sufficient water to irrigate if necessary, but is our fruit quality really higher than before?

If the “commercial life” of a vineyard is about 25 years, we are at about half-time. If Prof. Barlow’s predictions of vintage time for Victoria in 2030 and 2050 are realistic, we might be just in the position to make it, so to say. The selection of grape varieties for replanting in about 2025 could be based on a much broader scientific knowledge.

Prof. Barlow thinks that Australian vintners and winemakers are at the forefront of climate change, “the canary in the coal mine”, as he puts it.

Life is full of adventure, especially in the rural hinterland of Melbourne.

The article in The Age closes with the remark, that Prof. Barlow “rarely meets a climate sceptic in the wine industry”. From my conversations with libertarians I cannot confirm this, but libertarians are mostly found in urban centres and hardly in the field.

Who destroyed the Australian wine industry? …and the culprit is….

February 15, 2010

I have not been reading the Daily Wine News for a couple of days. After coming home last night, I browsed through the accumulated news. And, Eureka, I found for the first time someone who points his finger in the direction of the big corporate producers.

So far the tenor of most critics has been that there is just too much wine around (surplus of 20-40 million cases of wine each year) and that mostly greedy investors, money trusts and lifestyle (hobby) vintners, loaded with money made in construction or as medical doctors are the ones to blame. They are the ones who single handedly destroyed the wine sector; they produced the “wine lake”, and planted unsustainable hectares of new vineyards. The remedy was also clear: the small ones have to go. Instead wine production had better be left to the professionals (i.e. the corporates).

In comes Brian Croser, the founder and former owner of Adelaide Hills based Petaluma winery, with his view of the problem. He believes that the 2,000-odd Australian vintners are the originators of first-class Australian wine and have been the creators of the outstanding international image of their produce. The large companies, the corporates, have benefited from this positive image and “sailed on it”. However they mainly produce commodity wines of inferior quality which they dump on world markets, thereby destroying the reputation of fine Australian wines.

Whether this is true or not is certainly debatable. Everyone who extended their plantings in the hope of a larger marketshare is somehow to blame. However, finally we can hear another tune, not heard before and the public conversation has not only become more colourful but also more pluralistic, which is good for everyone.

If we have to pull out 40,000 ha of grape vines, they should come from various sources. If one of the four big companies would go and leave the sector, a lot could be gained for the remaining producers. Alternatively, small producers could pull out. What would be better for the country? this is a question not easily answered.

We will see small, medium as well as big companies leaving the industry. Many small family businesses will have their niche and will thrive regardless of the downturn of the sector. Others will close down, especially fruit producers who are at the end of the value chain (actually they are at the start of it). Also some of the investor and dividend driven schemes will come to an end. Vineyards and wineries will be hard to sell for some time to come. The big corporates will clean up their portfolios, they might de-invest in wine production and move into other segments of the beverage industry. Lower average profits in wine making will make other investments relatively more profitable. The wine sector will remain unattactive for young professionals for a while until the pendulum swings back, and the cycle of boom and bust will start all over again.

We at Two Hills Vineyard came too late to the party, and were caught out, so to say. I guess, we will go into hibernation and see what the prospects are in a couple of years time. I hope we can afford this strategy and that it will pay off some day when we can reduce costs and better market our produce. I remain optimistic and we will hang in there. Cheers to Two Hills wines!

Two Hills Vineyard, Glenburn