It normally goes like this:
Dreams of a ‘better year’ keep recurring and tensions build in November as growers count down the last few sprays before ‘indicative prices’ season.
In the second week of December, clusters of growers are invited to the ‘unveiling’, just prior to December 15. The messages vary ever so slightly from earlier years. “It’s a tough market out there; Yes the dollar is still 30¢ below parity and Yes you are correct, industry is in reasonable shape in terms of supply and demand and Yes (in most cases) our trade performance has improved and industry export volumes and values have improved.” The anxiety levels ease momentarily but then the indicatives are unveiled. Grim expectations are confirmed for another year. Despite all the continuous improvement and striving for excellence there are no green signals to boost confidence. Water input costs are acknowledged as being “another consideration for you growers” but the talks stop short of any thoughts about what impact these might have beyond the vineyard; after all, it’s up to growers to manage inputs!
This is a long drawn out Act with much uncertainty as the ‘back-enders’, not bound by the Industry Code of Conduct, consider their options. They take a squiz at the front-runners’ indicatives and mutter, “why should we pay any more?” Why indeed? Sustainability is not part of supply chain economics. Then, February edges closer, the harvesters crank up, the trucks rumble to the wineries and prices are finally set; several weeks into vintage.
During Interval, the numbers are crunched and the media keep ringing up to “find out how it’s all going?” The scoreboard is dusted off and the price ‘ranges’, for varieties are displayed for 2016. The ‘range’ for an estimated 100K tonnes of Chardonnay is approximately $20, from a low of $275 to a high of $295. The range for a likely 12K tonnes of Sauvignon Blanc is broader and marginally higher from $285 to $340 with two of the ‘majors’ dead heating on $340. The story for reds is similar with an estimated 80K tonnes of Shiraz being purchased between $305 and $330. Again, there are some amazing dead heats with the ‘independent’ buyers offering exactly the same prices. Cabernet Sauvignon is not much different with an expected 40K tonnes being purchased between $300 and $330.
The curtain rises;
it’s Act 4,
early to mid February. Despite buyers’ best efforts, there are plenty of growers who consistently ignore price signals and insist on producing excellent fruit, ‘fit for purpose’. They live in hope. Then, the messengers visit, at the behest of the buyers and all too frequently the script begins with the word: “unfortunately”. It prattles on…”we thought you would make it into a higher grade this year, but we’ve made a subjective assessment, in the field… and you’ve just missed out…(again)”. These words are not merely insulting; they are demeaning and demoralising.
Act 5: It’s all over bar a few shouts. The grapes are harvested in good condition, the excellent wine is made and good people, who make ‘role-model’ growers, are nullified.