New Zealand's 2001 grape harvest will support continued export growth in the year ahead according to the Wine Institute despite a smaller than expected vintage.

Following its Annual Vintage Survey, the Institute estimates winemakers harvested 71,000 tonnes of grapes in 2001, down 9,100 tonnes on the previous year. The reduced crop comes despite a significant increase in the producing vineyard area in the past year.

Commenting on the vintage, Wine Institute chief executive officer Philip Gregan said: "The reduced harvest primarily reflects cool weather during flowering in some areas, leading to an uneven fruit set in those regions. For the industry the harvest comes at a time when many wineries are experiencing continuing strong demand for New Zealand wines.

"Fortunately our major export variety, Sauvignon Blanc, has been unaffected by the tonnage downturn; in fact production of Sauvignon Blanc is estimated to be a record at over 20,800 tonnes or 34.6% higher than last year. This increase combined with larger volumes of red wines coming into the market from the previous vintage will support export growth over the coming year," he said.

Gregan said the fact the harvest is down on expectations reflects the inherent variations in yield that occur in agriculturally based industries. "As a result the wineries plan for variability, and it is one of the reasons the winemakers hold stock from previous vintages," he said.

The overall decrease in production from the vintage masks wide variations in the production of individual grape varieties. Among the leading varieties the harvest of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Riesling were at record levels, while production of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are below vintage 2000.

Varietal production changes for Vintage 2001 compared with 2000

Sauvignon Blanc
+ 34.6%
to 20,826 tonnes
Pinot Noir
+ 26.8%
to 8,015 tonnes
Riesling
+ 7.6%
to 4,377 tonnes
Semillon
- 13.8%
to 1,887 tonnes
Cabernet Sauvignon
- 26.6%
to 2,782 tonnes
Chardonnay
- 27.7%
to 17,067 tonnes
Muller Thurgau
- 33.4%
to 4,231 tonnes
Merlot
- 37.1%
to 2,573 tonnes

Source: New Zealand Wine Institute