The Winemakers' Federation of Australia (WFA) today announced that the Australian wine industry has achieved a record vintage in 2004, with an estimated crush of 1.86m tonnes - 40% more than the drought affected 2003 vintage and 23% more than the previous record vintage of 1.51m tonnes in 2002.

Increased crop levels were recorded across almost all varieties, with bearing areas up 5% on 2003 and above average yields in virtually all parts of Australia.

WFA chief executive, Stephen Strachan, said that good winter rainfalls and favourable weather conditions during spring and summer had delivered a disease free vintage of 'above average' to 'outstanding' quality across all regions.

"One of the longest vintages in recent times, the dry, warm and stable conditions boosted red winegrape production in particular, and both warm and cool climate regions exceeded quality and yield expectations in 2004," Strachan said.

"Red winegrape production has increased by 38% to 1.07 million tonnes, surpassing 1 million tones for the first time, whilst white winegrape production has increased by 43% to 794,000 tonnes."

Shiraz production is up 43% to 442,000 tonnes, representing around one quarter of total winegrape production, with Cabernet Sauvignon production up 41% to 317,000 tonnes. Chardonnay production is up 41% to 329,000 tonnes, accounting for 18% of total winegrape production.

"Although production of multipurpose winegrapes (Sultana and Muscat Gordo Blanco) has increased by 52% to 122,000 tonnes, the share of these varieties in the national crush has declined from 30% in 1994 to just 7% in 2004, reflecting the consumer demand for varietal wine," Strachan explained.

Commenting on the implications of the vintage, Strachan said that the increased intake of white winegrapes would assist in alleviating the shortage of some premium white varieties, especially chardonnay, and that a more balanced position was expected for most regions.

"The substantial increase in red winegrapes will provide both a challenge and opportunity for the industry, particularly in our export markets," he said.

"The aggravated supply position relates primarily to cool climate production with the intake of warm climate red winegrapes considered to be more balanced with domestic and export demand for branded products at 'popular premium' price points."

"Through aggressive and successful export growth the wine industry has responded to an increase in production of 180% since 1994. The increased intake in this vintage, particularly of reds, increases the pressure to maintain export growth rates and move stock before the next vintage."