The 2009 New Zealand grape harvest, which will begin next week, is expected to be smaller than last year, according to New Zealand Winegrowers' annual pre-vintage survey.

An expected crop of 275,000 tonnes will be down on the record 2008 vintage of 285,000 tonnes, despite 3,000 hectares of grapes coming into production for the first time, the industry body said today (20 February).

The wineries covered by the survey accounted for 91% of the 2008 grape harvest include around 60 medium and large wineries.

Philip Gregan, New Zealand Winegrowers' chief executive, said: "Wineries and grape growers know that 2009 will be a challenging year due to the global recession.

"In that environment the industry is focusing more than ever on the key driver of our global success - producing world-class wines. Lower vineyard yields and a reduced total crop, despite the increased producing area, are the inevitable result of that focus."

On the outlook for the vintage Gregan was upbeat. "To date the weather leading into the vintage has been very positive. Most regions are reporting the grapes are in excellent condition, so at this stage the prospects for a high quality vintage appear very good."

Wine exports for 2008 rose by 19% year-on-year, reaching a value of NZ$904m (US$453.9m), and are expected to hit the $1bn mark in 2009, despite the economic downturn, NZ Winegrowers said earlier this month.