Flooding of vineyards was widespread in NSW and Victoria and affected the harvest. Photo: Ray Kennedy
Heavy rain and flooding in some wine regions came too late to completely ruin the 2012 harvest, growers say, and there are early signs the oversupply of grapes may be easing.
According to early estimates from the Wine Grape Growers Association, produced in response to last month's wet weather, about 1.4 million tonnes of ''smaller but sweeter'' grapes are likely to be crushed this year, down from last year's 1.56 million tonne harvest, which was heavily impacted by flooding and disease.
The association's estimate is preliminary, with more comprehensive Winemakers Federation figures out in June and official data including varietal breakdowns from the Australian Bureau of Statistics later.
Most of the vintage escaped heavy rains. Photo: Theresa Ambrose
The association's executive director Lawrie Stanford said the February and March rains were ''not a disaster at a national level'' because 75 per cent of the country's overall harvest was finished and only ''a minor proportion of the crop'' was affected.
High quality and low yields would characterise the 2012 harvest, the association said, and for the second year in a row, whites were getting the best the season has to offer.
Around the country Western Australia had dry weather and was disease-free, South Australia had its best harvest in four years with high-quality and high yields, while parts of New South Wales and Victoria were caught up in the wet.
According to the association, the districts from Murray Darling/Swan Hill down to north of the Yarra Valley (which missed the worst of it) received a drenching, but most in harm's way were the major districts of the Riverina, the Hunter and central NSW - Mudgee, Orange and Cowra.
In a statement, Casella Wines, maker of the yellow tail brand based at Yenda near Griffith in south-west NSW, said up until late February, the vintage conditions were the best in years until the winery was hit with flood waters a metre high.
Casella said the winery was protected by a temporary levee, and while 80 per cent of the local vintage had already been processed, some local red grapes that had not yet been harvested were lost.
Casella sourced grapes from other regions, however, and was able to process its fruit at production facilities in NSW, Victoria and South Australia while some access routes to the Yenda site were blocked.
''This ensured that Casella's growers were not disadvantaged and were able to submit their grapes for processing,'' the company said.
Mr Stanford said there were ''very early signs'' of a turnaround in the grape glut, with some prices increasing and the total area planted beginning to decline.
''We would still believe the industry is oversupplied and certainly the prices growers are getting would indicate that.
''Because 2011 was such a disease-devastated season there were some shortages, particularly of high-quality fruit this season.''
Mr Stanford said the influence was probably seasonal, rather than a fundamental shift in demand or supply.
''While prices did improve this season, it's off an extremely low base. Growers are still not achieving the cost of production.''
He said despite low grape prices, many growers remained reluctant to remove vines.
''Over a three-year period the national vineyard is reducing, with roughly 4-5 per cent of national vineyard removed in net.
''Many would believe we need four times as much as that to be removed.''
Treasury Wine Estates said it had "just completed 2012 vintage intake in Australia".
"We're very pleased with the quality of the fruit and despite yields being lower than pre-vintage forecasts, we're satisfied we'll meet our demand requirements for our wines," it said in a statement.