Red Cliffs wine grape grower Adam Waddleton has hundreds of tonnes of wine grapes but no-one to buy them.

The producer has been desperately searching for a buyer to take next season’s crop — without luck.

“It’s pretty dire at the moment … I can’t get anybody to even want to talk to me about [the grapes],” Mr Waddleton said.

Adam Waddleton says the prospect of pulling out vines his parents planted is “heartbreaking” but he may not have another option.(ABC Rural: Else Kennedy)

Since the imposition of hefty Chinese tariffs on Australian wine in 2020, Mr Waddleton has been selling his grapes at the cost of production. 

Now, as a three-year contract comes to an end, he’s facing the prospect of leaving his grapes to rot on the ground and the “heartbreaking” decision of pulling out his vines.

“It’s one thing to work for nothing. It’s another thing to go backwards entirely,” Mr Waddleton said.

Mr Waddleton is calling for government support for growers to pull out their vines and plant new crops as grower lobby group Australian Grape and Wine estimates a glut of more than 450 million litres of wine across the country is forcing winemakers to close their books.

Government funding for vine pulls unlikely

This week the federal government announced a support package for growers, offering $3.5 million in funding towards growing domestic and international wine sales and providing growers with better data through a national vineyard register.

But Agriculture Minister Murray Watt on Wednesday said funding for growers to exit the industry was unlikely.

Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt has announced a $3.5 million support package for the Australian wine industry.(ABC News)

“We’re not in the habit of providing tens of millions of dollars to pay people to exit an industry,” Mr Watt said.

“What we’re actually looking to do is to restructure the industry and put it on a good footing for the future.”

Industry calls for support

Australian Grape and Wine chief executive Lee McLean welcomed the $3.5 million package as “a good positive first step” but said more support was needed.

Australian Grape and Wine chief executive Lee McLean.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

Mr McLean called on the government to provide $86 million in federal funding to support the industry, including $30 million to support growers wishing to transition out of wine grapes.

“We really do need that support for grape growers to transition because without that there is a risk of unintended consequences of damage to regional communities, particularly those in inland regions,” Mr McLean said.

“Removing barriers to exit like the cost of removing vineyards and posts in a safe and sustainable way might help [growers] to exit with dignity.”

Industry group Australian Grape and Wine estimates there are more than 450 million litres of wine in storage in Australia.(Unsplash: Kim Ellis)

Mr McLean said the Chinese imposition of hefty tariffs was not the fault of growers, and necessitated government “intervention” to support the industry.

Chinese tariffs were wound back in March, but industry groups say the large volumes of wine in storage across the country has made it difficult for growers to find buyers for their fruit.

Mr McLean told a grower gathering in Mildura on Wednesday that inland producers in Australia’s largest wine grape growing regions — the South Australian Riverland, the Murray Valley, and the NSW Riverina — who sell fruit to large commercial operators and account for 68 per cent of the national crush, have been hardest hit by the glut.

A government-appointed wine industry taskforce is due to report back to state and federal agriculture ministers next month and will recommend further measures for industry support.

Key stories of the day for Australian primary producers, delivered each weekday afternoon.