WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand's grape harvest in 2009 has been held at the same level as the year before to support the wine industry in the face of global recession, the industry said on Monday.
The volume of grapes harvested was 285,000 tonnes, above initial forecasts, but in line with 2008's final crop.
The area of plantings had increased nearly 7 percent, but production had been kept steady to maintain quality and earnings in weaker markets.
"There has been downward pressure on prices in the short-term given the global recession and market conditions," said New Zealand Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan.
New Zealand, one of the so-called 'new world' wine producers, is best known for the white Sauvignon Blanc variety, and the current year's harvest was up 5 percent on the previous year.
However, it has a growing reputation as a producer of the red Pinot Noir variety, and has sought to position its wines at the top end of the market to gain the best prices.
"The prospect of some outstanding wines from the 2009 vintage will help underpin our price premium," Gregan said.
The country has more than 500 winemakers, many of which are boutique operations, but produces less than 0.5 percent of global wine.
Last year's bumper harvest is expected to have driven export earnings to a record NZ$1 billion ($641 million) in 2009, with Britain, North America and parts of Europe key markets.
Reporting by Gyles Beckford