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Development of the Tasmanian Winegrape Vineyard

In a relatively short period of time, Tasmania has developed a reputation for its ability to produce high-quality still and sparkling wines.  Anyone unconvinced by this statement should try, for example, Eileen Hardy Chardonnay 2010 or Jansz Brut NV to get some appreciation of the high quality production potential from this cool climate region.

Tasmania-Vineyard-GrowthThe Tasmanian vineyard has expanded considerably since 1993.  Then the bearing area as reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) was only 177 ha, but their latest report suggests that this had expanded to 1,229 ha by 2012.  Wine Tasmania has released their own vineyard data which suggests that the total vineyard area for Tasmania in 2013 was 1,538 ha.  (There are some inconsistencies between these two datasets which are currently being investigated.)

Tasmania-Rainfall-Temp-vineSince Tasmania has a pronounced topographic relief with mountains reaching above 1,500 m, vineyard plantings have so far been restricted to alluvial plains and valleys.  The prevailing westerlies are responsible for western Tasmania receiving most of the rainfall, having lower temperatures and making it unsuitable for winegrowing.

Tasmania-Vineyard-Regions-m The largest winegrowing region of Tasmania is the Tamar Valley, situated in northeastern Tasmania with ca. 500 ha – about one third of the island’s vineyards.  The East Coast, North East and Coal River Valley regions each have 250 – 300 ha.

Tasmania-vineyard-area-by-cBlack and white grape cultivars have been planted at approximately the same rate so the vineyard area of black and white cultivars has remained roughly equal for the past twenty years.

Tasmania-Vineyard-VarietalsBlack winegrape cultivars are dominated by Pinot Noir.  Chardonnay is the leading white cultivar, but with a less dominant position.  The remaining white vineyard consists mainly of roughly equal amounts of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc.

In contrast with many other parts of Australia where vineyard area is being reduced, the current demand for high quality Tasmanian grapes exceeds supply.  This has led the Tasmanian State Governement to encourage new planting and to seek overseas investment. This will likely lead to additional vineyard planting – but care will be needed to ensure that Tasmanian grape supply does not leap ahead of demand.


Napa Valley Vineyard Development

In 1981, Napa Valley became the first area of California to be designated an American Viticultural Area (AVA). It currently contains ~10% of California’s vineyard area and is probably America’s best known wine region.

Napa-Winegrape-Vineyard-AreThe reported vineyard area of Napa Valley in 1990, according to USDA NASS, totalled 33,194 ha, of which 84.2% were bearing.  Additional vineyard planting reached a peak in the late 1990s, but since 2006 the total vineyard has plateaued at around 46,000 ha.

Napa-Black-Vineyard-AreaThe path to 46,000 ha has been brought about by quite distinct planting histories for black and white winegrape cultivars.  Black cultivars totalled 18,053 ha (81% bearing) in 1990 and increased in every year up until 2006 when a maximum of 35,174 ha (96% bearing) was reported.  Since then the black vineyard has plateaued at just under 35,000 ha, with only very small amounts of non-bearing acreage.  With Napa vines typically being replaced after 20-30 years, the current low levels of planting will need to enhanced if a decline of the black vineyard area is to be avoided.

Napa-White-Vineyard-AreaWhite winegrape cultivars totalled 15,141 ha (88% bearing) in 1990 and have been in consistent decline until 2005 when a low of 10,482 ha (97% bearing) was reported.  Since then they have reportedly plateaued at close to 11,000 ha, but again with non-sustainable amounts of non-bearing vines.

Napa-Vineyard-by-ColourThe overall effect of these differing histories has been for Napa Valley to move from a vineyard which comprised 54% black cultivars in 1990, to one in where in 2006 they comprised 77% ot the total vineyard.  Since then the ratio of black to white cultivars has remained more or less unchanged suggesting, perhaps, that winegrowers are content with the current cultivar mix.  The current low level of non-bearing vineyard implies that unless additional vines are planted soon a decline in the productive vineyard area is inevitable.


Compositional Changes to the Vineyard of England & Wales

The vineyard area of England & Wales has increased every year since 2004 according to official figures in the UK Vineyard Registry which is maintained by the Food Standards Agency.

UK-Vineyard-Planting-cyclesFor 2012, the total vineyard area of England & Wales was estimated to be 1,438 ha, of which 90% was bearing. The vineyard expansion which has occurred in the current cycle since 2004 differs from previous plantings in several key aspects.  These include the scale of investment, rate of planting and increased use of technology to map soils and ensure precise planting patterns.  Yet the most important and long-lasting change is in the choice of cultivars that have been planted.

UK-Top-5-varietalsIn 2004 the UK’s most planted cultivar was the hybrid varietal Seyval Blanc (94 ha) followed by the German crossing Reichensteiner (89 ha).  Plantings of Chardonnay at that time were a mere 36 ha.  Fast forward to 2013 and Chardonnay has become the UK’s most planted cultivar with 327 ha, closely followed by Pinot Noir with 307 ha.  The spectacular growth of these two cultivars follows the recognition of the very high quality potential of the English sparkling wine category.  Almost all recent investment into the English wine industry has been directed towards sparkling wine and the cultivars of choice are those used so successfully in Champagne.

UK-Vineyard-Varietals-2004-Whereas Chardonnay and Pinot Noir made up 13% of the UK’s vineyard in 2004, by 2013 they occupied 44% of a much larger national vineyard.  The English wine industry is very much nailing its colours to the mast of sparkling wine and, judging by the quality from producers such as Nyetimber, Ridgeview and Camel Valley, this looks to be a very sound move indeed.


Five Things Worth Knowing About the Texas Wine Industry

Texas wine is not very well known outside of the Lone Star State and there is precious little awareness of it outside of the US.  This may be about to change as increased investment, the entry of new entrepreneurs and more suitable cultivars are moving the industry forward.  So with exciting times ahead, here are five things worth knowing now about the Texas Wine Industry.

1.  The Number of Texas Wineries is Increasing Rapidly

Texas-Wineries According to the Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association, in January 2013 there were 273 registered wineries in Texas.  Ten years previously there were only 54. Expansion of the number of Texas wineries has really taken off since the beginning of the 21st century.

2. Texas Grape Production Has Not Increased This Century

Texas-Grapes-UtilizedLimited vineyard planting (see below), Pierce’s Disease and unfavourable climatic conditions (2011 drought; 2012 Spring freeze) have together created a situation in which Texas grape production has been not expanded in line with demand. For some years now there has been a shortage of Texas grapes.

3. More Texas Vineyard is About to Come Into Production

Texas-Vineyard-AreaThe recently released 2012 USDA Agricultural Census of Texas has shown a large increase in the amount non-bearing vineyard, reflecting a significant amount of new vineyard planting since 2010. These non-bearing vineyards should be bearing in 2014 or 2015, which will roughly double the amount of bearing vineyard and hence grape production capacity.  With additional vineyards still being planted, it shouldn’t be too long before the Texas vineyard exceeds 10,000 acres.

4. With Limited Texan Grapes, Winemakers Are Using Californian Grapes

While some Texan wineries are able to source sufficient Texan grapes for their needs, most cannot.  Aided by a laissez-faire attitude towards labelling, winemakers are currently able to describe their product as “Texan wine” providing a minimum of 25% of the juice is from Texan grapes (Mariani, 2013).  That leaves an awful lot of leeway for using out of state grapes in Texas wine.  If you want to be certain that the wine in your glass originated with largely Texan grapes, then stick to those from one of the eight designated AVA regions of Texas.  A wine with an AVA designation guarantees that at least 85% of the wine’s grapes were grown within the AVA.

5. Texas is Still Discovering the Best Varietal Match to Terroir

Texas-Cultivar-Area-2010The modern Texas wine industry is arguably less than 50 years old, which isn’t a lot of time to determine which type of grapes grow best in which area.  The most recent USDA_NASS Texas Grape Survey showed that although Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay were the two most planted grape cultivars, neither occupied more than 20% of the bearing vineyard.  A great variety of black and white cultivars are currently being grown, some in small amounts on experimental plots.  It will take several years, or perhaps decades, before the most appropriate mix of cultivars for Texas’ different terroirs is adequately determined.

Thanks to Natalia Velikova of The Texas Wine Marketing Research Institute for advising on available data sources


Five Things Worth Knowing About Sauvignon Blanc

The #SauvBlanc Day celebrates all things Sauvignon Blanc and takes place on May 16th.  So in honour of this event, here are five factoids worth knowing about this white grape cultivar.

1. Interest in Sauvignon Blanc is Growing

Sauvignon-SearchesGoogle Trends provides a useful measure of gauging interest in a particular term since it can track the volume of searches for that term relative to all searches.  In the case of Sauvignon Blanc, searches show a markedly upward trend since 2007 with peak interest occurring just before Christmas each year.  Interestingly, Sancerre – arguably one of the most famous Sauvignon Blanc-based wines – shows an almost static search trend over the same period.

2. Increased Interest is Driving More Planting

California-SauvBlanc-AreaBetween 2000 and 2010, Sauvignon Blanc was second only to Chardonnay as the white cultivar with the largest increase in global vineyard area.  Almost all major producing countries have seen sizeable increases in recent years.  For example, in California, increased plantings of Sauvignon Blanc throughout the 21st century have given the state a vineyard area that now stands close to its all time high.

3. The Country With the Most Sauvignon Blanc is France …

Sauvignon-Blanc-Global-AreaThe global vineyard area of Sauvignon Blanc in 2010 was 110k ha.  The global leader with 27k ha was France, followed by New Zealand (16k ha) and Chile (12k ha).

4. … But New Zealand Has Shown the Largest Recent Increase

Sauvignon-Blanc-2000_2010In 2000 New Zealand had 2,423 ha of Sauvignon Blanc, meaning the country ranked ninth by vineyard area for this varietal, behind countries such as Australia, Italy and USA.  By 2010 the area of Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand had climbed to 16,205 ha and propelled it into second place behind France in the global rankings.

5. Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc has a Justifiable Reputation

IWC-Sauvignon-Blanc-ResultsSo much for the production potential of countries with Sauvignon Blanc, but which countries are producing the best wines from this varietal?  This is a more difficult question to answer, relying as it does on individual tastes and preferences.  Wine show medal awards are biased because they rarely take into consideration the number of wines which are entered (organisers prefer to keep this information confidential). Nevertheless, the number of medals awarded at an international competitions such as the IWC, can suggest which countries are producing wines of acknowledged high quality.  The IWC2014 results suggest that New Zealand’s strong reputation for working with Sauvignon Blanc is thoroughly justified.

Vineyard Evolution in Germany

The Deutsches Weininstitut is commendably meticulous both in maintaining records of the German wine industry and in making them available to a wide audience.  Each year they publish Deutscher Wein Statistik, which includes information concerning vineyard area, wine production imports and exports.  These are available, with varying degrees of detail, back to 1990.  By compiling statistics from these reports, long-term trends in the German wine industry become more readily apparent.


Apart from the Mosel, each of Germany’s 13 recognised wine regions has maintained a near-constant vineyard area over the past quarter century. As a result, the total German vineyard area has stayed roughly constant during this time at around 100,000 ha.

Germany-vineyard-colourYet while Germany’s vineyard has maintained a near-constant area, there have been substantial changes in the cultivars being grown.  This is clearly apparent from looking at the respective areas of black and white cultivars.  In 1985 black cultivars totalled 12,800 ha and made up only 13% of Germany’s total vineyard.  By 2005 the area of black cultivars had risen to 37,500 ha,  which represented 37% of the total.  With the total vineyard area remaining roughly constant at ca. 100,000 ha, the growth in black cultivars has been mirrored by a corresponding drop in the vineyard area of white cultivars.  Since 2005 the areas of black and white cultivars have remained roughly constant with the latest vineyard figures (2012) being black cultivars 36,600 ha and white cultivars 65,600 ha.  This means that Germany’s overall vineyard consists of 35.8% black and 64.2% white cultivars.

Germany-5-most-planted-v2The main casulty in the loss of white vineyard area has been Müller-Thurgau, which has dropped from 25,500 ha in 1985 to 13,100 ha in 2012.  This has left Riesling as far and away the most planted cultivar with 22,800 ha in 2012.  The black vineyard increase is largely due to increased plantings of Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder) and Dornfelder which are now the third and fourth most planted cultivars respectively.

Winestats would like to thank Nicole Stierstorfer of Deutsches Weininstitut, Mainz, for kindly supplying some of the data used to compile the charts in this posting.