King Coal's reign treads on grapes

A David versus Goliath battle in the Upper Hunter has the wine industry fighting for survival amid the ever-expanding coal giants.

Already facing a brutal adjustment due to the global wine glut, wineries and growers in the Upper Hunter are under further pressure from the expansion of mines.

It is understood more than 800 hectares of vineyards have been lost in the Upper Hunter to mining over the past few years, with a further 400 hectares gone as a result of industry rationalistion.

The latest in a line of Upper Hunter wineries to close was Arrowfield Estate, at Jerrys Plains.

Formerly the largest vineyard in Australia, Arrowfield closed its doors to the public in November and the final employees left at the end of the year.

The 130-hectare property was placed on the market in July and is tipped to sell for more than $4 million.

During the 1970s, it was the largest single vineyard holding in the southern hemisphere.

The Arrowfield winery and vineyard is owned by Inwine Group Australia and the property has 27 hectares of vines and comes with 2.2 million litres of storage, a cellar door and restaurant.

Inwine Group chief executive officer Brenton Martin told the Newcastle Herald the decision to close the vineyard was not taken lightly.

"Arrowfield has a very long and successful history in the region . . . but the region itself has had a diminishing value in both domestic and international markets over recent years," Mr Martin said.

"While the Hunter is very high on the list of regional awareness, most of the action is in the Lower Hunter with many of the Upper Hunter wineries either closed or struggling."

Problems in the region include a reduction in critical mass due to closures and a lack of tourism accommodation because it is largely booked out by mines and contractors.

Upper Hunter Wine Makers president Brett Keeping said that despite the challenges there was still "a lot of belief in the area as a wine-growing region".

Mr Keeping said all producers throughout Australia were looking at their operations and many were pulling out vines.

"Some of Australia's best wines have come from the Upper Hunter and we are looking forward to the time when this industry rationalisation settles down," he said.

"The hard part for us is that it is difficult to attract new investment due to the uncertainty of land use due to the mine expansions."

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