A preliminary vintage report released today by the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation, suggests that Australian grape production is marginally up on the forecast prior to the season.

"Production is estimated at 1.52 million tonnes which is 7% up on last year," the AWBC's manager, information and analysis, Lawrie Stanford said today.

This result is a revision on expectations held earlier in the year - caused mainly by increased tonnages of up to 15% in warm inland districts such as the NSW and Victorian Murray-Darling region, the Riverina and the Lower Murray in SA.

On the other hand wine-grape tonnages in cooler, southern regions declined by 5% on last year.

However Stanford went on to warn of regions where over-production was a problem. "The higher production in the warm inland regions has created some purchasing pressure, which meant that not all red grapes were purchased and there was a lesser requirement for neutral white grapes," Stanford said.

"The amount of unpurchased fruit is estimated at 50,000 tonnes which is just over 3% of the national harvest or around 5% of the warm climate harvest."

But he went on: "The best news is the exceptional quality across the board.

"Winegrape producers in the warm inland regions are talking about the best season yet for quality. This has rivalled the quality in the cool climate areas which is also at high levels."

Stanford said that in contrast to 2001, which favoured red wines, the 2002 season showed quality gains across both whites and reds.

The harvest benefited from a mild summer, which resulted in reduced fruit set, smaller berries and slower ripening over an extended season. This not only intensified colours and flavours but reduced disease pressure, the AWBC said.

Stanford said a more accurate varietal breakdown of the 2002 vintage would be released in June by the Winemakers' Federation of Australia following a survey of wineries.