Griffith wine grape growers lose up to 75 per cent of their crop in storms

Griffith wine grape growers are reeling after storms wiped out much of their crops just a couple of weeks before harvest. 

Large hailstones and winds of more than 100 kilometres per hour pushed over vines and damaged grape bunches. 

Grower Robert Bellato said he had lost up to forty per cent of his crop, and some vines were permanently damaged. 

“It really defoliated the western side of the vines. It also flattened about 20 rows of grapes that are on the ground,” Mr Bellato said. 

“Some of the vines actually snapped completely. it’s been quite devastating.” 

Grapes which are discolored or bruised on a vine Grapes which are discolored or bruised on a vine
Robert Bellato, Griffith estimates up to 40 per cent of his crop was damaged in last week’s storm. (Supplied: Robert Bellato )

Like many wine grape growers, Mr Bellato does not have crop insurance. 

“Unfortunately, crop insurance in viticulture and horticulture is very, very expensive. That’s why a lot of us don’t get the insurance.”

Neighbouring grower Dennis Menegon estimated he had lost three-quarters of his grape crop from the hail. 

“There’s nothing you can do.”

A flooded road and fallen trees in Griffith NSWA flooded road and fallen trees in Griffith NSW
The storm produced winds of up to 111kph in Griffith, a new record for January. (Supplied: Tom Breed)

Wet weather leads to disease pressure

It had already been a challenging season for wine grape growers in the Riverina, the largest wine-producing region in NSW. 

Riverina Winegrape Marketing Board chairman Bruno Brombal said wet weather had led to significant disease pressures. 

He said growers have had to spray up to 10 times this season for fungal diseases like powdery mildew.

Red wine grape prices drop by 30 per cent

There has also been a significant drop in prices for red wine grape varieties.

Riverina growers are currently looking at around $350 a tonne for Shiraz grapes, 30 per cent less than last year’s prices. 

“Some of the reds have dropped about $150 a tonne on last year,” Mr Brombal said. 

“It’s not a good thing prices dropping so far and [with] the disease factor. Growers can’t afford to go out there and buy a lot of chemicals and spray. 

Mr Brombal said the impact of the Chinese export tariff was to blame for the drop in red wine grape prices, with China predominantly a red wine market. 

A group of pickers pick grapes wearing high vis shirts and surrounded by vines.A group of pickers pick grapes wearing high vis shirts and surrounded by vines.
There is concern that COVID-19 infections could lead to worker shortages at harvest. (ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale)

Harvest labour COVID concerns

Riverina wine grape growers usually begin harvest this week, but the cool, wet conditions have slowed grape maturity. 

“I believe we’re about two to three weeks behind this year,” Mr Brombal said. 

There’s concern that COVID-19 infections could impact harvest labour, both on the winery and farmer sides of the equation.

“If one or two of them gets COVID [in a contract harvesting team], they’re going to be in deep strife.” 

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