This year's wine harvest in Australia is set to be a third smaller than 2006, according to the latest assessment from the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation (AWBC).

The AWBC announced its estimation today (23 February) and it comes just over halfway through the 2007 harvest.

A severe drought and frost have combined to all but guarantee a lower harvest in Australia this year. The AWBC said Australian winemakers will have around 400m litres less wine to work with than last year.

"The 2007 harvest stands out as one in which seasonal conditions are conspiring to reduce yields (tonnes per hectare) to a 30-year low. The national vineyard this season was subjected to frost, drought, early-harvest rain episodes and every prospect of a hot/dry finish," said Lawrie Stanford, information and analysis manager at the AWBC.

Stanford said the harvests of the last years were all above average in Australia, coming at around 1.8 to 1.9 million tonnes. The smaller 2007 harvest, he said, is a "compensator" for the supply load from these seasons.

However, Stanford added that a firm harvest forecast is still some time away with more than half the red wine grape crop to be picked and about a third of the whites.