A decision on lifting China’s tariffs on wine will come too late to provide financial relief for farmers as harvesters roll through bushy vines to collect this year’s crop.

Many growers have already decided to dump their grapes on the ground or leave them on the vines rather than be paid prices as low as the 1970s.

Chinese authorities have announced an interim decision that tariffs of 220 per cent on Australian wine are no longer necessary, but the industry doesn’t see a return to the market fixing the crisis.

“Tank farms” of towering cream and silver tanks, each holding as much as 365,000 litres of wine, cast shadows over Australia’s largest grape producing regions — South Australia’s Riverland and the Riverina in New South Wales.

Warburn Estate at Griffith in NSW is one of many tank farms across Australia’s inland wine regions.(Supplied: Facebook)

B-double trucks piled high with grapes queue at the winery weighbridge as cellar hands pull levers to crush the fruit of this year’s harvest.

But there is a question of who will buy the wine, or whether it will just add to the more than two billion litres in storage.

It is a reality Cooltong-based grape grower Jack Papageorgiou is acutely aware of, having been in the industry for more than 50 years.

“The Chinese know we have millions of litres of wine in the tanks, so I’m sure they will try to get the best offer that they can,” he said.

Even if China resumes its imports from Australia, the 71-year-old is adamant that the industry must continue catering to other markets.

Australia is one of the largest wine exporters but has the lowest bulk wine price. (ABC News: Steve Opie)

Spreading the risk

China is not the only country buying less Australian wine.

Several other countries have also reported declining exports from Australia, with the UK down 20 million litres and the United States down 13 million litres, according to ABARES.

The Wine Group manager Brigid Nolan said the supply was completely out of touch with the demand.

Ms Nolan says the high prices previously paid by China for Australian wine were unsustainable. (ABC News: James Wakelin)

Growers and industry representatives have called for a moratorium on new vine plantings to stop the issue spiralling further. 

Riverina Winemakers Association president Andrew Calabria said it would be hard to get Australian wine back on the shelves in China, especially with the nation facing an economic crisis.

Mr Calabria says Australia had lost market share to wines from Chile, France and South Africa.(Supplied: Andrew Calabria)

“Consumer education [will be needed] in order for us to rebuild,” he said.

“It’s not going to be the flick of a switch where we start to see all that wine soaked up.”

Mr Calabria said some wineries had pivoted to other markets since being locked out of China and could be unwilling to export with the same intensity.

“Some people might say ‘that was a risk before and I’m not going to take that risk again’,” he said.

Changed market

The South Australian government and industry representatives held workshops earlier this year to provide insights about re-entering the Chinese market.

South Australian Wine Industry Association chief executive Inca Lee said demand was shifting even before the tariffs.

Ms Lee says Chinese consumers still have a good perception of Australian wine. (ABC South East SA: Elsie Adamo)

The imported wine market in China has dropped to a third of the size it was five years ago, falling from 76 million cases to 28 million cases, according to ABARES.

Australian Grape and Wine chief executive Lee McLean said China would still be an important market but it wouldn’t be the same as it was.

“The likelihood of us getting back to that $1.2 billion market is slim,” he said.

Wine Australia marketing insights manager Peter Bailey said China’s consumer tastes had broadened from almost exclusively bold reds to include more whites and sparkling wines.

Despite the changes, he said China’s regard for Australian wine hasn’t waned.

“Australia is still very well regarded in the market but developing those relationships will be crucial,” Mr Bailey said. 

Stories from farms and country towns across Australia, delivered each Friday.

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