Wine industry representatives say they will fight for financial assistance after this week’s federal budget left them disappointed.

An oversupply of red wine and changing drinking habits among consumers has led to grape growers receiving historically low prices for their fruit and pulling out their vines while wine companies explore mergers.

Maria Sialas says young people are leaving the region because of the industry crisis.(ABC News: Eliza Berlage)

The fallout from the crisis is being felt acutely in South Australia’s Riverland, Australia’s largest wine producing region, where Maria Sialas is among several contractors assessing the viability of their businesses.

Ms Sialas, who is been in the industry for almost 20 years, says the flow-on effects are plain to see.

“We can already see it here — no-one has money to spend, no-one goes out to restaurants, no-one is buying tractors,” she said.

“We don’t want to see the Riverland become a ghost town.”

The wine industry did not receive the relief it was looking for in the 2024 budget.(Unsplash: Kim Ellis)

Family’s misfortune

Ms Sialas said she had reduced the number of harvesters used for contracting and had been chasing late payments from growers months after harvest.

But telling her adult children that it was unviable for them to take on the family business was even tougher.

“But we’ve had to have that hard discussion with them that it isn’t viable,” Ms Sialas said.

“We can’t afford all of us to be in the family business, where eight years ago we could. 

“So they’ll be moving back to Adelaide, which is sad because we need the young generation here.”

Grape growers are struggling to break even and are bulldozing their fields.(ABC NEWS: Matt Roberts)

Australian Grape and Wine requested an $86-million recovery package from the federal government in the latest budget, but no sector-specific funding was included in the announcement this week.

The package included support for vineyard owners to rip out vines and plant other crops, assistance to develop export opportunities and a domestic marketing campaign.

Lee McLean says helping regional communities now will be less expensive than trying to pick up the pieces in the future.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

‘Bitter pill to swallow’

Australian Grape and Wine chief executive Lee McLean said he was disappointed to see the industry overlooked in the budget.

“It is a bitter pill to swallow to not see any of that assistance coming through,” he said.

“A small modest investment now in regional communities is a great way to avoid dealing with a major social expense in the future in the form of welfare for these regional communities.”

Last month government representatives toured inland wine regions including the Riverland, Riverina and Sunraysia as part of an industry taskforce that will table a report to ministers.

Tony Pasin has been trying to arrange meetings between the government and growers.(Supplied: Office of Tony Pasin)

Federal Liberal Member for Barker Tony Pasin said the federal government needed to do more to address the crisis.

“[There was] very little in the budget for the Riverland, but the most pressing is obviously the situation of the wine industry,” he said.

“The budget has left the wine industry to wither on the vine.”

In a statement a government spokesperson said that the budget included several measures to assist the industry, including $2m to re-establish commercial connections in China and $487.9m for AusTrade’s export market development grant program.

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