China wine tariff pushes Australia’s grape growers into crisis

5 days ago 36

For years, China’s thirst for Australian wine seemed insatiable. Chinese drinkers were so passionate about big-bodied red wines from Australia that many vineyards replaced white grapes with darker varieties. Wineries even reverted to using corks – instead of convenient screw tops – because Chinese consumers liked the traditional plug.

But then everything unraveled.

In April 2020, Australia’s prime minister at the time, Scott Morrison, called for an independent investigation into the origin of Covid-19. Beijing was furious, denouncing “political games” meant to assign blame for the pandemic. In response, China unleashed its overwhelming economic might.

It imposed a punitive tariff on Australian wine, and the country’s biggest overseas market vanished almost immediately. Sales to China plummeted 97 per cent that first year. Storage tanks overflowed with unsold vintages of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, pressuring red grape prices.

Australia’s grape growers are still suffering. This year, there is even less demand for red wine. Farmers are facing a choice between selling grapes at a huge loss or keeping costs to a minimum and not harvesting. Grape growers like Mr Mauro Travaglione are even questioning the future of their family business.

On his 130-acre farm in Australia’s Riverland region outside Adelaide, Mr Travaglione has not produced any wholesale red wine since the tariff came into effect. Last year, he sold his red grapes to other wineries and felt lucky to do so, even though he barely covered his costs.

“Every day is a struggle,” said Mr Travaglione, whose family has lived in Waikerie, a rural town in the state of South Australia, since his parents bought a small fruit farm there in 1966. “You have to seriously think: Is it worth continuing on?”

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