Wine grape growers struggling with low yields

WINE grape growers struggling with low yields from frost-ravaged vines have been dealt another blow in the form of this year's grape prices.

The Area News obtained price lists from four wineries, which revealed the asking price for some varieties was as little as $180 per tonne.

In a comparison between Berton Vineyards, Casella Wines, McWilliams Wines and Pernod Ricard Australia, previously known as Orlando Wines, Casella remained the best of the bunch by keeping prices in line with last year.

John Casella from Casella Wines said prices remained low across the board as wineries were forced to pass on a variety of unfavourable market conditions.

"Grape prices are down everywhere because of a high dollar, low profitability and intense competition, which have inevitably been pushed back on the growers," Mr Casella said.

"Our yields have been variable, with some down and some on par with forecasts, but I'm also hearing horror stories from people affected by frost and hail.

"While Casella hasn't been able to increase our prices, we have been able to keep them in line with last year because of an easing in the dollar and increased sales.

"At the end of the day we're in business for the long-term we want to keep our growers viable and keep the industry sustainable."

The CEO of growers' representative body Riverina Wine Grapes Marketing Board (WGMB) Brian Simpson declined to discuss wine prices after instigating a media blackout.

Mr Simpson refused to reveal any details about his dealings with growers or wineries, but he did confirm scheduling a series of meetings with parliamentarians in Canberra to lobby for his industry which he described as being "on its knees".

"We need governments to be aware of current economic conditions and the successive years of low returns," Mr Simpson said.

"We hope to work on ways to assist producers exit the industry or amend their business and meeting politicians face to face is the best way to do that.

"The timing of price releases and the low adoption of the voluntary code of conduct in the Riverina will be discussed."

Mr Simpson said many growers wanted to get rid of their vineyards, but they felt trapped by market forces.

"Growers can't exit the industry gracefully, but they can't get the returns they need either," he said.

"The catch is farmers are trying to stay in because otherwise they would have to sell their farm at a loss, but by doing so they are increasing their level of debt."

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