23 October 2023

'Temperatures just dropped': Spring cold snap hits region's wineries following hard years

| Claire Sams
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Stephanie Helm and Ben Osborne standing in their vineyard

Stephanie Helm, pictured with husband Ben Osborne, said the impact of the recent frost on their winery was “significant”. Photo: Erin Dando.

The Canberra District is known for its wines, but producing them can be difficult when a frost hits.

That’s something Stephanie Helm knows first-hand, as co-owner of award-winning winery The Vintner’s Daughter (and being a vintner’s daughter).

Ms Helm and partner Ben Osbourne woke up Tuesday (17 October) to see a “huge frost” affecting their vineyard.

“It’s hard to say what the full impacts are yet, but it’s definitely significant,” she said.

“All of the vines have been affected.

“We’re hoping some of our red varieties might have gotten off not quite as bad, but it’s probably upwards of 50 per cent.”

Ms Helm said the frost took them by surprise.

“We were quite worried about a frost this year,” she said.

“It was something that was on all of our minds because once you start getting to the drier conditions, you tend to get that risk of frost when you get clear nights and such.

“When we had sort of the rain earlier in the week, we thought, ‘Oh, we’re probably pretty safe’, but then, unfortunately, the temperatures just dropped.”

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Another winery to get caught in the frost was Lerida Estate.

Operations Manager Melissa Morgan said they were “really, really lucky” that only a relatively small portion of their grapes were affected.

“Approximately 15 per cent of the shiraz in the vineyard has been impacted or damaged by the frost,” she said.

“Funnily enough, that was the same main section affected by the hail damage in 2022.

“It was still recovering in the ’23 vintage and was looking to be good for the ’24 vintage – but, obviously, the frost prevented that.”

But Ms Morgan said that despite the heartbreak, there was hope.

“The weather forecast seems better than the previous couple of years,” she said.

“We’re expecting some nice, warm, sunny days, so hopefully, our yield on the remaining part of the vineyard will be really good.”

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Ms Helm said that while the frost has passed, the impacts will linger.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if some people really re-consider whether they can keep going,” she said.

“We’re all small businesses that rely on our tourism and hospitality, and we’ve had bushfire smoke taint, a hail storm and the pandemic.”

She said there are still wines available for purchase, meaning the public can support their local producers.

“Canberrans and the surrounding area have an outstanding wine region on their doorstep,” she said.

“More than any other time, we would love to see them come out and enjoy the wineries.

“But because winemaking is such a long game, you won’t see the effects of this on the shelves until towards the end of next year and probably for a year or so after that for the red wines.”

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