First bottom line proof of the much predicted over-supply in Australian wine production has emerged in the weeks immediately before the 2002 vintage, with predictions of red grape prices 15% down.

BRL Hardy, Southcorp, Simeon Wines and Cranswick Estate forecast a fall in prices of between 10 and 15% for major varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot from the Riverland region along the River Murray.

Another leading producer, Bill Moularadellis, proprietor of the Kingston Estate, said the major companies would abide by agreed contracts with the network of individual growers but uncontracted growers would struggle.

Angus Kennedy, technical director of BRL Hardy, which has its hugely successful Banrock Station in the region, said prices would fall up to 15% on top of a 10% decline last year.

Simeon Wines, Australia's third largest grape processor (behind Southcorp and BRL Hardy) said Cabernet Sauvignon prices especially faced a slump with a fall from A$750 (US$375) a tonne last year to A$550 in 2002.

However, none of the companies made any predictions about lower bottled or bulk finished wine prices as a consequence.