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Australian Grape Glut Dries Up as Drought Bites

A year ago, Australia was awash in wine. But thanks to the worst drought in a century, the 2007 vintage will be one of the leanest in years and the grape glut is drying up fast.

For winemakers like Terry Dolle, who has a small vineyard near the cool-climate town of Orange west of Sydney, the past year has been a "series of disasters".

"We got a really big frost in November. Then it was so dry we couldn't keep any moisture on the vines. Then, because there was not a blade of grass anywhere, the kangaroos came. Then we couldn't keep the birds off them.

"We are down 100 percent. We've got nothing," he told AFP.

Fellow vigneron Justin Jarrett has a similar story; in some parts of his Orange property the ground is so dry it would be useless to plant vines while in others the drought has left plants stunted and fruitless.

"If the drought just continues as is, we are going to see vines that are struggling to produce fruit at all," he told AFP.

He too has been hit by capricious weather. "In February we had 80 millimetres (3.2 inches) of rain and we lost 100,000 dollars (84,000 US) worth of crop because it came with a hail storm," he shrugs.

Orange, with an average annual rainfall of more than 800 millimetres, is always one of the last places in Australia to be hit by drought and one of the first to recover.

But the prolonged dry has slashed rainfall and wine production in the pretty township this year will be down by about half.

-- Vineyards in drought's grip --

It is a story replicated in vineyards around the country, most of which remain in the grip of the six-year drought.

In Australia's agricultural heartland further south, the Murray-Darling River region which is home to about 65 percent of the country's viticulture, grape growers labour under severe water restrictions.

"Even if we have got rain, produc
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