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Penin By Marina La Forgia - Global Wine & Spirits

It is already becoming clear that the 2009 harvest will be characterized by quality over quantity. This does not come as a surprise and actually provides an opportunity to look more closely at the future development of the wine market in a context of strong competition and economic difficulties.

The following tour of producing countries examines which ones are benefiting from the global climate changes affecting all regions. While some countries are faring better than others, an overall look at the situation from North to South and East to West shows that the total grape harvest is down and that, consequently, less wine will be produced in 2009. A common theme applies equally in both the New World and the Old: fewer grapes but better quality!

With its strong international reputation, Argentina was looking forward to a promising 2009 vintage; in the end, however, a smaller harvest than in 2008 is forcing Argentinian wineries to cut back production. In order to respond to the increasing market demand for Argentinian wine, the country’s producers need to balance stock levels through pricing, which will clearly remain at least at current levels.

Some industry specialists are concerned about production levels in Australia, which are 20 percent lower than in 2008. For a country that traditionally exports large quantities of wine, this reduction is worrisome and raises questions as to whether existing stocks will be sufficient to meet the demand.

High temperatures have had an impact on the Chilean harvest, as drier than usual conditions at season’s end have ensured a well-ripened crop. It will be interesting to pay particular attention to the 2009 vintage of Chilean Syrah, which appears promising, whereas the quality of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère will be somewhat more variable but still within the standards that we have come to associate with these traditional Chilean varieties.

For French producers, who are used to dealing with difficult weather, “know-how” is synonymous with distinction. To date, the crop looks promising in almost every region, although the production of French wine will be down. While this harvest will not live up to the extraordinary 2005 vintage, 2009 should still be a typical year. Once again, poor weather hit the great chateaux of Bordeaux the hardest, proving less serious for large producers making wine for mass consumption. France is still perceived as a country of small vineyards producing quality wines but is, in fact, playing an increasing role in major consumer markets such as China.

Currently in the middle of the harvest period, German producers are optimistic. If the dry weather remains stable, they will be able to harvest the grapes precisely at their maximum potential, especially the flagship Riesling. Production quantities in Germany have been declining for two years now.

Although production will be down slightly in Italy, this year’s harvest will still be abundant. Italian producers are generally very satisfied with prospects for the harvest, which appears to be exceptional, and are no longer obsessed with becoming world leaders in production. Rumours are circulating that this will be the best “vendemmia” of the last 10 years. Overall, Italian wine from the 2009 harvest will have good balance and acidity. The white wines look like they will be better than in 2008, while the reds will be intense in color, elegant and structured. As with all the large producing countries, some regions will fare better than others, and many will maintain production levels similar to last year. A trend that has seen wines from southern Italy gain in quality and international recognition is expected to continue.

New Zealand
The New Zealand wines have won power quality markets and production. And this year projected a record amount that will position them with surplus wine. There are no major concerns, as its sales have grown enormously in 2008, is projected as the increased integration of the wines from this country in the international market. As discussed the producers themselves are not very concerned about growing in number. The last harvest given the amount of wine needed to respond to local and international demand, especially from exotic Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.
New Zealand wines have gained market share through a mix of quality and production. The record production forecast for this year will position the country with a surplus of available wine. There are no major concerns here, following a substantial growth in sales in 2008 and forecasts of a greater share of the international market. The producers themselves are not preoccupied by production levels, since last year they easily met the local and international demand, especially for Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

Portugal also began harvesting early, and major wine producing regions such as Douro and Alentejo are expecting a vintage of the highest quality given the maturity of the grapes. However, Portugal has large stocks of wine remaining from last year after a difficult period in terms of sales. Despite these stocks, Portuguese producers appear to be looking at raising the price of their wines.

South Africa
The South African harvest will yield about 4 million litres less than in 2008. Once again, however, a decrease in quantity does not imply lower quality. The grapes were harvested early because of concentrated hot weather, and their resulting maturity will translate into very aromatic, intense wines. The early harvest, however, is causing storage problems with existing wines. International buyers are currently viewing South African wines with special interest because of the overstock situation.
Sauvignon Blanc will be South Africa’s shining light in 2009, with experts predicting superlative results for wines of this variety.

A decrease in production from 2008 levels does not seem problematic for Spain, as the country has a considerable surplus of wine in stock. This will help Spanish producers reintegrate the international market based on the high quality of the 2009 vintage and competitive, stable pricing compared to their European neighbours. With about 15 million hectolitres of surplus wine, Spain is in a position to set the rules for the market. Some producers are already focusing on introducing their wines to emerging markets such as Russia.

United States
While the U.S. consumer market is growing steadily, the economic slowdown has hurt local producers significantly because of a drop of up to 30 percent in sales of American wines this year. Consumers in the United States are drinking more, but are turning to lower-priced wines.Weather conditions leading up to the 2009 harvest have again made Pinot Noir the big winner, while other varieties such as Merlot do not seem to have reached their full potential.
Are there other issues concerning the 2009 harvest and market trends that interest you? We invite you to share your opinion on Global Wine & Spirits Community!