WINEGRAPE growers are puzzled by a lack of interest from wineries for at least two key varieties.
This comes despite a tightening of supply from smaller crops and increased exports.
Swan Hill Winegrape Growers Association president Colin Free told last week's annual general meeting at Swan Hill that growers thought the industry might have turned the corner, but prices were ''still crook'' and some had fallen since last year.
Mr Free said growers continued to leave the industry because of unsustainable low returns.
Murray Valley Winegrowers executive officer Mark McKenzie told the meeting that low demand for uncontracted chardonnay or gordo grapes was surprising, given smaller crops in the Riverina and Riverland regions and a 37 per cent increase in bulk exports of chardonnay last year.
The stocks to sales ratio also was at its lowest level since 1995, when the vine planting frenzy began.
Mr McKenzie said floods across the Riverina in March last year had resulted in restricted spring vine growth, very stunted canopies and poor fruit set.
''There are reports of crops as light as 4-5 tonnes per acre of chardonnay in the Riverina, and I'm also hearing of very variable chardonnay crops in the Riverland,'' he said.
''There is a lot of stunted growth and hen and chicken (unevenly sized grapes) development.''
Mr McKenzie said heat damage in the Murray Valley also might affect yields in red and gordo grapes, which should have a positive impact on prices.
But major wineries Treasury Wine Estates and Orlando Wines were being asked to rethink indicative gordo prices because ''they've got it wrong''.
Mr McKenzie said there had been a tightening of supply in the two major regions that produced gordo grapes, which were mostly used in moscato-style wines.
''In the last two years wineries have seen a huge opportunity in (rapidly rising) demand for moscato, a lot of which has been driven out of the United States,'' he said.
''And about 40 different brand variants of moscato were launched on the Australian marketplace in the last two to three years.''
More than 70 Australian wineries now sell at least one type of moscato, according to Darby Higgs of vinodiversity.com.
Mr McKenzie said 73 per cent of grapes in the Swan Hill and Murray Valley regions were grown under contract, but there had been an upsurge in inquiry about chardonnay grapes which had yet to ''find a home''.
But there had been some upward movement in shiraz prices and growers were warned not to accept their first low offer.
''Wine companies are light on reds - they're releasing reds up to six months ahead of their preferred release date - yet we've only just begun to see shiraz start to move,'' he said.
This year's national winegrape crop is expected to total up to 1.6 million tonnes.