Drought is likely to reduce the 2003 Australian vintage, now under way, by at least 10% to 1.45 million tonnes of wine grapes compared with the 1.61 million of 2002.

Regional differences and weather conditions in the final ripening weeks mean the drop varies by between 10-30% between areas. But predictions are for a cut of 150,000 tonnes overall.

The drop is expected to be at its most severe in Australia’s principal - in volume terms – grape growing districts, the vineyards along the River Murray, itself much depleted by the parched conditions.

Angus Kennedy, operations and technical director of BRL Hardy, which is one of the biggest growers and buyers of grapes, said the long dry winter and hot summer was similar to that of 1995. “My feeling is that we’ll have a short, sharp and small vintage.”

The impact will be softened by the fact that 2002 was a record crop and the surge of vineyards planted by investors in the past decade are now coming to maturity.