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Development of the Tasmanian Winegrape Vineyard

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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

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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.

 

Five Things Worth Knowing About Sauvignon Blanc

Image © New Zealand Wine

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

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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.

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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.

Growth and Size of the Vineyards of England & Wales

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Wine Standards, a branch of The Food Standards Agency, is the Government organisation responsible for keeping records of vineyards in the United Kingdom.  These records are maintained in a Vineyard Register which is updated annually.

UK-Regions-Map-with-vineyarAccording to the Vineyard Register for 2013/14, there are 448 commercial vineyards in England & Wales.  Additionally, there are 89 hobby vineyards, meaning that their owners do not sell any production which might come from them.  The total area of these 537 vineyards amounts to 1,520 ha.  The majority of vineyards are located in southern England, but they extend north as far as Yorkshire and The Humber, and westwards into Wales.

A comprehensive database of individual vineyard plots is also maintained by Stephen Skelton at EnglishWine.com.  He records a total of 599 vineyard plots, with a total area of 1,640 ha.  The reason for this discrepancy compared to the FSA’s Vineyard Register is probably due to the under-reporting in the latter of non-commercial vineyards.

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The data at EnglishWine.com has been used to produce a chart of the vineyard plot size distribution for England & Wales.  This shows that almost half of all vineyard plots are <1 ha and that ca. three-quarters of all plots are <2.5 ha. Currently there are only two vineyards which are greater than 50 ha.  Denbies Wine Estate hosts the largest vineyard in England and Wales (107.3 ha) and is the only one to exceed 100 ha.  The relatively small size of many vineyard plots in England & Wales means that economies of scale are limited and production costs, of necessity, will be on the high side.

UK-Vineyard-AreaThe area of land given over to vineyards in England & Wales has increased markedly and rapidly from a low of 761 ha in 2004.  The increasing reputation of English, especially English sparkling, wines has driven this growth and has attracted the attention of wealthy investors such as Lord Ashcroft.  Future investment into the industry over the next few years will likely see the establishment of vineyards larger than the current norm and given over to those cultivars most suitable for producing sparkling wine.

The Bierzo Formula: Same Cultivars, Fewer Vines, More Bodegas

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Amidst the Old World vineyard restructuring, Spain stands out as the country that has lost most vineyard in the 21st century (Anderson, 2013).  Most of Spain’s losses have occurred outside of Denominación de Origen (D.O.) regions. Yet with high labour costs and pressure on prices, the more remote D.O. wine regions have had no option but to change the way that they operate.

Bierzo-Harvest-Composition-D.O. Bierzo is located in the far northwest of Castilla y León, with vineyards adjoining Galicia’s Valdeorras wine region.  The 2013 harvest in Bierzo totalled 13.2 million kg and is notable for the large percentage of Mencia (75%) with the next largest cultivar being Palomino (15%).  Although there is a trend for replacing (low quality) Palomino with (now fashionable) Godello, this does not seem to be occurring with particular haste.  This is somewhat surprising given the success that the likes of Rafael Palacios and Valdesil have had with Godello in Valdeorras.  Although Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon have been planted here since at least 1997 (González-Fernández et al., 2012), they are permitted only on an experimental basis and to date have had no significant impact.  Bierzo remains very much a Mencia-based wine region.

Bierzo-Grower-NumbersAlthough there has been little change in the cultivar mix, there has still been considerable activity in restructuring Bierzo’s vineyard.  In 2002 the total vineyard was 4,100 ha, but this had shrunk to 3,045 ha by 2012 – a reduction of 26%.  The number of growers has declined even more rapidly from 5,186 in 2002 to 2,634 in 2012. As a result holdings per grower has increased from an average of 0.8 ha/grower to an average of 1.2 ha/grower over the same period.  No doubt to management consultants this represents much needed efficiency savings, but these changes of necessity must also have had an associated human cost.

Bierzo-Wine-ProducersOn a more cheerful note, Bierzo has seen a considerable increase in the number of bodegas during the 21st century.  Whilst a considerable amount of fruit is still sent to co-operative ventures, a fast-growing trend is the establishment of small bodegas being developed by younger enthusiastic entrepreneurs.  This is evidenced by the number of wineries which undertake their own bottling, which has risen from 27 in 2002 to 57 in 2012.  Domain Tares (2000), Bodega Peique (2001), and Bodega del Abad (2003) are examples of quality-orientated wineries established this century which have already made something of a name for themselves.

Bierzo-Export-VolumesSo will Bierzo’s approach of producing less wine of higher quality from smaller wineries using an established grape cultivar mix prove to be a long-term success?  It’s by no means guaranteed but, for wine lovers interested in trying something different, Bierzo offers unusual often delicious wines at attractive prices.  Although export volumes are small, the growth of exports suggests that Bierzo wines will soon become more widely available at independent wine stores.