Photo: Ian Routledge / Wine Australia

Life is a Cabernet: analysing the trends for Australia’s second most planted variety

Market Bulletin | Issue 109
Photo: Ian Routledge / Wine Australia
29 May 2018
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This week, Australia will headline Vinexpo Hong Kong’s 20th anniversary event as ‘Country of Honour’, with the largest-ever Australian showcase of 151 exhibitors representing over 225 wine brands from 51 regions.

Held every two years, Vinexpo Hong Kong is the most influential wine and spirits trade fair in the Asia Pacific. The three-day show brings together around 17,000 trade professionals from all over the world, who assemble at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre to showcase their products and educate buyers.

With the support of the Australian Government’s $50 million Export and Regional Wine Support Package, Australia’s presence at the event will be bigger, bolder and better than ever before.

Among the activities held during Vinexpo will be a master class on Australian Cabernet Sauvignon.

One of Australian wine’s remarkable success stories

Cabernet Sauvignon vines arrived in Australia in the mid-1800s, and over the years it has become an essential part of Australian wine heritage, both in single variety wines and classic blends.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2015 there were 24,862 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon under vine in Australia, making it the second most planted variety in the country behind Shiraz (38,893 hectares) and ahead of Chardonnay (21,442 hectares). Globally, Australia is one of the world’s major producers of Cabernet Sauvignon, ranked fourth in plantings behind France (54,434 hectares), Chile (40,728 hectares) and the United States of America (USA) (34,788 hectares)1.

Cabernet Sauvignon is planted in most of Australia’s wine-growing regions. Ten regions have more than 1000 hectares under vine, accounting for just under three-quarters of the total area (see figure 1).

Figure 1: Cabernet Sauvignon hectares under vine by region, 2015

According to Wine Australia’s National Vintage Survey 2017, 279,041 tonnes of Cabernet Sauvignon were crushed in 2017, up 8 per cent on 2016. The national weighted average purchase price declined by 1 per cent to $647 per tonne. There were mixed price movements among the key growing regions. The average price for Cabernet increased for the Riverland, Murray Darling/Swan Hill, Barossa Valley, Margaret River and McLaren Vale but declined for Coonawarra, Langhorne Creek, Riverina, Wrattonbully and Clare Valley.

In the 12 months ended March 2018, 15.4 million cases2 of Cabernet Sauvignon wines were exported from Australia, up 20 per cent on the year prior and just below the record of 15.8 million cases achieved in the 12 months ended February 2007 (see figure 2). While the volume of exports increased, the average price also rose, by 13 per cent to $67.50 per case free on board (FOB).

Figure 2: Exports of Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, million cases (9Le)

Cabernet Sauvignon is successful in Australia as a standalone single varietal wine and as a dominant feature in classic blends. This is reflected in the export figures. In the 12 months ended March 2017, 6 million cases of single variety Cabernet Sauvignon was exported while 1.8 million cases featured Cabernet as the dominant variety of a blend. The remainder were blends where Cabernet was not the dominant blend. Single Cabernet exports grew by 13.3 per cent, a slightly stronger rate than Cabernet blends, up 12.5 per cent.

Of the blends where Cabernet was the dominant variety, just over half were Cabernet/Merlot blends and a third were Cabernet/Shiraz blends. Cabernet/Merlot blends declined by 1 per cent while Cabernet/Shiraz blends increased by 24 per cent. Other blends to grow included Cabernet/Shiraz/Merlot, Cabernet/Merlot/Petit Verdot and Cabernet/Malbec.

Australia’s Cabernet destined for 115 countries

Australia exports Cabernet to 115 countries. China (including Hong Kong and Macau) was the biggest destination with a 43 per cent volume share followed by the USA (23 per cent), the United Kingdom (8 per cent), Canada (6 per cent) and Japan (3 per cent). All but the USA recorded an increase in Cabernet exports. Other destinations that increased shipments of Cabernet included New Zealand, Singapore, the Netherlands, South Korea and Malaysia.

Australia produces a range of Cabernet styles from medium to full-bodied wines with firm, structured tannins. Regional expressions vary, but Cabernet Sauvignon’s varietal character shines through no matter where it is grown. A wide range of qualities exist from affordable, every-day drinking wines through to some of Australia's most sought after, collectible fine wines. These will all be on show at Vinexpo Hong Kong.

1 Anderson, K. and N. Aryal, Database of Regional, National and Global Winegrape Bearing Areas by Variety, 2000 and 2010, Wine Economics Research Centre, University of Adelaide, December 2013, revised July 2014.

2 Cases refers to nine-litre case equivalents