18 February 2020

Smoke, hail and heat hit 2020 vintage but winemakers see glass half full

| Dominic Giannini
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Mount Majura Vineyard

Mount Majura Vineyard has been heavily impacted by the smoke that blanketed the ACT in December and January. Photo: File.

The ACT and NSW wine industries are expecting an economic hit in the hundreds of millions of dollars after a season of bushfires and smoke taint, record temperatures and a devastating hail storm, but the industry has stressed that they are still open for business.

Executive officer of the NSW Wine Industry Association Angus Barnes told Region Media that the southern regions have been hit particularly hard.

“The south NSW region has been badly affected by the fire, so the effects of the smoke will be quite strong along the Southern Highlands, Shoalhaven, Tumbarumba, Gundagai, Hill Top and Canberra regions,” he said.

“My belief is that the loss of grapes not being purchased is expected to be in the tens of millions, and once you turn that into wine and sales, it will likely be in the hundreds of millions.

“No region has been completely wiped out, but no region has been completely untouched.”

Wineries across the ACT are seeing a similar trend.

Clonakilla has just announced that they have doubts about delivering their 2020 vintage due to the “unacceptably high levels of smoke taint”.

Chief winemaker and CEO Tim Kirk said the unprecedented bushfire emergency and severe drought has made 2020 the toughest year in living memory for the Australian wine industry, but the smoke has only affected one vintage.

“We have wines in reserve, stored in our museum cellar in advance for a situation just like this,” he said in a statement.

“There will be enough Clonakilla wine to go around and the cellar door will continue to be open every day for tastings and sales.”

Frank van de Loo from Mount Majura Vineyards also said the winery has been hit hard, but not all is lost.

“The outlook is not great. We have not written off the whole vintage yet, but it is looking reasonably grim,” Dr van de Loo said.

“But the big thing for us is that we are selling reds mostly from 2017 and 2018 and have 2019s already bottled and sitting in the cellar so those should last us through until the 2021s are available.

“If we have a message for the public it is that we are hurting from this, but we want people to continue supporting the region and the best way to do that is to buy wine directly from the wineries or through cellar doors.”

Ken Helm from Helm Wines echoes the message.

“There are a number of vineyards around the district who are not picking because of smoke taint and there are a large number that have found that the smoke taint was too high,” he said.

“You have to also remember that we had the hottest and driest summer on record, which was preceded by the driest winter so the vines were suffering from drought stress anyway, but we are still optimistic that we will be able to pick some riesling and cabernet.

“The wineries will be open for business. Sure they will have lost some money because they do not have a 2020 vintage, but not all is lost as the Canberra district has had very good vintages in both quality and quantity in 2018 and 2019.”

For some Canberra wineries, bushfire smoke was just the first of the year’s challenges. Then came the rain.

This year’s harvest at the Brindabella Hills Winery was unusable due to taint, but then the recent storms and heavy rain completely wiped out the grapes, as well as flooding paddocks and washing roads away.

Storm damage at the Brindabella Hills Winery
Storm damage at the Brindabella Hills Winery

Storm damage at the Brindabella Hills Winery over the weekend. Photos: Supplied.

Like Brindabella, some vineyards in the region will be relying on packaged wine, fruit sourced from outside the region, and good harvests from the last few years to tide them over until 2021. But businesses are still open and looking at the silver lining.

“The great thing is that we have not released our 2019 reds yet, and some 2019 whites are being held as well so I think we will all be right,” Sarah McDougall from Lake George Wines told Region Media.

“The wonderful thing when we lose a whole vintage is that we get to go deep into our wine museum and start re-releasing some crackers, some beautiful wines, so it is actually a quite exciting time from that point. We are being optimistic.”

The ACT Government’s Holiday Here Canberra campaign also seems to be helping regional wineries, encouraging residents to support local businesses.

“We have not seen a significant drop off of visitors. If anything we have seen an increase of locals on the weekend,” Ms McDougall said.

“The weather is great, there is clear air again, and Lake George has filled back up so people can appreciate the views. We had a really good weekend in trade. Everyone was out in force, it was awesome.”

Mr Barnes is also encouraging people to get out and support local vineyards.

“Sometimes you have a good season, sometimes you have a bad season. It will not go down as the easiest year but I suspect most wineries will be able to get through this,” he said.

Original Article published by Dominic Giannini on The RiotACT.

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