5 April 2023

Winemakers say cheers to the reopening of Murrumbateman Rd, but a hangover remains

| Sally Hopman
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Murrumbateman business owners linking arms on a road

Wendy O’Dea (Dionysus Winery), Mary McAvoy (Tallagandra Hill), John Collingwood (Four Winds), Yasmin Coe (Murrumbateman Chocolate Co), David Faulks (Tallagandra Hill) and Steph Helm (The Vintner’s Daughter). Photo: Steph Helm.

If you could toast a road, that’s exactly what some of the region’s finest winemakers were doing this week after Murrumbateman Road was reopened after about six months – but it has come at a price.

Torrential rain in October last year damaged the culvert over Broken Dam Creek, cutting off wineries and other businesses, including the popular chocolate shop, from many of their customers and one of the main rural roads between Yass, Canberra, Bungendore and the South Coast.

Yass Valley Council was inundated with complaints from both the on-farm businesses trying to stay afloat to tourists from far and wide who said they were confused by inadequate road signage. So much so that the businesses banded together to pay for signage themselves, explaining that they were still open for business.

Steph Helm, who runs The Vintner’s Daughter winery with her husband Ben, said her fellow vignerons and chocolatiers could not but help celebrate the reopening of Murrumbateman Road last week, but their joy was clouded by how close many of them came to a crisis.

“We’re all farmers, we understand weather, we are dependent on weather, but having to wait six months to fix a road is not acceptable. It would be fair to say that we are a bit frustrated by it all,” she said.

“I wrote to Yass Valley Council asking if there can be a review of this process, a review that will allow us to better respond to natural disasters.

“We know these things happen – we’ve had so much disruption recently with bushfires, COVID and flooding.

“This has affected all of us. Six months seems a long time to fix a problem like this.

“That’s why I wrote to the council, asking why it took so long – and hopefully prevent it from happening again.”

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Steph said tourism was the backbone of the Murrumbateman businesses and it was crucial for them, as farmers, to look at how they could become more resilient.

“We’re not in competition with each other. We prefer to complement each other,” she said.

“We don’t produce bulk products. We produce premium wines. We bring people here. We employ people locally. We know there will be more rather than less of these weather events, so the council needs to have a better plan of action – that’s why we have called for a review.”

When Region spoke with Yass Valley Council general manager Chris Berry last month about the delays in fixing the road, he said it was a combination of a shortage of contractors, supplies and weather.

He estimated the road would reopen by the beginning of April.

“I do understand the frustration of locals and businesses,” he said at the time. “But safety is, and has to be, our number one issue.”

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Steph said if one good thing had come out of the delay in reopening the road, it was how it had strengthened the bond between the farmers affected by its closure and other local businesses.

“We kept really close throughout that time,” she said.

“When our customers and others said they didn’t know if we were open or not, we banded together to get more signage.

“Now we want people to know we’re open for Easter business.”

Steph said The Vintner’s Daughter would be open throughout Easter, with farm and wine tours and cellar door sales. For their Easter hours, check the websites of the Murrumbateman Chocolate Co (formerly Robyn Rowe Chocolates), Dionysus Winery, Tallagandra Hill and Four Winds.

Original Article published by Sally Hopman on Riotact.

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