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The wine growers and makers devastated by bushfire – and how you can help

The unprecedented nature of Australia’s Bushfire crisis has taken a heavy toll on our nation. Never before, for so long and over so much of the country, have bushfires exacted such a price on life and wildlife, forest and fauna, livelihoods, homes and businesses. Our vignerons, winegrowers and winemakers have not been spared, from early September, when fire ripped through the Granite Belt region in Queensland, to now, in early January. Fires are still burning all across the eastern seaboard, Kangaroo Island, the north-east of Victoria and the Tumbarumba region in the NSW high country, and let’s not forget the devastating Cudlee Creek bushfire in the Adelaide Hills just before Christmas. That fire burned through more than a third of the Adelaide Hills area under vine (1,100 hectares).

Adam Wadewitz, winemaker at Shaw & Smith and his own winery, Elderslie, described “the weird mix of emotions, standing in Lenswood where fire came right to the road, to the edge of the vineyard and the paddock next door. You’re so relieved, and then your next breath you look over to your neighbour and they’re completely wiped out; you feel terrible at the same time.”

Amongst vineyards affected were the growers for Elderslie’s pinot blanc. And it is the growers in the Hills that represent a hidden toll, small farmers who grow fruit to sell to the brands consumers know and love. As Adelaide Hills winemaker Charlotte Dalton commented, “they sell grapes to us small folk and allow us a living in an industry we love… they are our true heroes (and they are often so humble you wouldn’t know a thing about them).” These growers far outnumber the names we recognise, and they are suffering just as much.

Vineyards that have been destroyed included Henschke’s historic Lenswood vineyard, home to, amongst other varieties, some of the earliest plantings of pinot noir in the Hills (1983). Some vineyards will need to be completely replanted, while those that were singed may survive. Replanting of course means no crop for this coming vintage, and for several years after.

The spectre of smoke taint now haunts the looming harvest, particularly across NSW, where the area burnt is so large and the fire season has been so long, and veraison and indeed picking in some cases as already begun. Across other areas, like the Adelaide Hills, the situation is more hopeful for this year’s harvest.

Wadewitz hailed the good work the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) has done on smoke taint, laughing ruefully, “unfortunately we know more and more about smoke taint … the fire hit a long way prior to veraison, and we know there’s less chance of it being an issue.”

This fire season, of course, comes during a sustained drought, water stress and record-breaking temperatures. Now more than ever, Australian consumers and wine lovers need to rally behind the industry and support our farmers, growers and wine producers. The most important thing is for tourists to return to the regions affected, as soon as it is safe, and to help producers by buying wine directly through their websites, where possible.

Oak barrels and equipment destroyed at Tilbrook Estate, with the winery hit by the bushfire.

See below for a list of some of the affected producers and how you can help.

If you have any further information on those affected, please contact us.

QLD

Granite Belt, Stanhope and surrounds, September 2019 – bushfires burn through the region, threatening wineries.

NSW/ACT

Hunter Valley, late December 2019 – backburning in the Broke Fordwich area, near the 154,000 hectare ‘Little L Complex fire’, threatens the harvest.

January 2019, from the Hunter Valley, Bruce Tyrrell reports that Tyrrell’s estimate a total crop loss for their own production of 80%. Though Tyrrell points out that the impact of smoke taint is not universal across the region. “The Hunter Valley is a large geographical area and there were many factors to consider when making this decision including proximity to the fires, elevation of vineyards, and days in contact with fresh smoke.”

Southern Highlands, late December 2019/early January 2020 – fires threaten various wineries.

Tumbarumba, late December 2019/early January 2020:

Obsession Wines – on 31/12/2019 fire losses so far are 8.5 hectares of vineyard, all vineyard machinery and a lot of winemaking equipment. The family also lost their house.

Johansen Wines – the “Mountain View” vineyard, planted in 1993 was nearly entirely burnt.

Courabyra Wines – vineyard damaged.

Moppity Vineyards report the fire is “burning 2 km east” of their vineyards (9/1/2020).

VIC

East Gippsland, late December 2019 – Nicholson River Wines near Sarsfield is threatened by fire.

Beechworth, King and Alpine Valleys, late December 2019/early January 2020 – many properties and vineyards in the areas are either under threat or dealing with sustained smoke from surrounding fires.

SA

Kangaroo Island: The Advertiser reports that more than 215,000ha – almost half of the island – has been scorched since December 20 last year. 11/01/2020: The Islander Estate‘s Bark Hut Road Estate vineyard hit by the fire.

Adelaide Hills, 20th December 2019 – Cudlee Creek fire begins and burns through 1,100 hectares of vineyard, as well as 72 homes, 404 outbuildings and 227 vehicles. Wineries and brands impacted include:

Tilbrook Estate – almost all vineyards lost, winery (barrels and stock) and equipment, hay shed and stock.

Geoff Weaver – two sheds, all equipment, a car and a cabin destroyed; around 40% of the vineyards were affected, “mostly by radiant heat” and only time will tell if they need to be replanted or will re-shoot.

Henschke – almost the entire Lenswood vineyard was destroyed, plantings included riesling, chardonnay, grüner veltliner, pinot noir, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc and gewürztraminer.

Barrister’s Block – “100% vineyard loss”.

Vinteloper – vineyard devastated.

Simon Tolley – 80% of vineyard lost.

Golding Wines – serious vineyard damage.

New Era Vineyards – 40 acres of vineyard lost, including posts and drippers, sheds and equipment, barrel store and wine in barrel, plus 1000 cases.

Tomich Wines – significant damage to vineyards and machinery.

Howard Vineyard – 30% of its Lobethal vineyard was lost.

Riposte Wines – significant vineyard damage.

Emmeline Wines – 7 hectares of vineyard lost.

Petaluma – significant damage to vineyards.

Nova Vita Wines – very significant vineyard damage.

Anderson’s Hill – vineyard damage.

Beal & Co. Wines – vineyard damage.

ArtWine – have lost approximately 50% of their Adelaide Hills vineyard.

Turon – some vineyard damage.

Bird in Hand – limited damage to vines.

Note that beyond the above list of producers, there are even more grape growers whose names you will probably never know. They are the backbone of the industry. The Adelaide Hills Wine Region Fire Appeal is the best way to help all of those in need, via their GoFundMe page.

Adelaide Hills bushfire at Beal & Co. Wines. Photo via Eden Hills Country Fire Service Facebook page.

What can you do to help?

Aside from buying direct from the listed wineries (or indeed any winery in an affected zone, as this is a crisis that will reach everyone in the community), there are some major fundraisers:

Red Cross

https://www.redcross.org.au/campaigns/disaster-relief-and-recovery-donate

Adelaide Hills Wine Region Fire Appeal

More than 60 wine producers and grape growers have been affected by the Adelaide Hills fires. Some are names that you know, but many are not. And there are even more growers whose names you will probably never know. They are the backbone of the industry. The Adelaide Hills Wine Region Fire Appeal is the best way to help all of those in need, via their GoFundMe page.

The Fire Services

https://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/donate1
https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/volunteer/support-your-local-brigade
https://cfsfoundation.org.au/donate

Others…

Many restaurants, cafes and wine stores across the nation are chipping in to help out, there’s a list at Gourmet Traveller.

The Empty Esky campaign promotes businesses affected by the fires.

If you have any further information, please contact us.