If ever we needed a reminder of how hot, dry and unforgiving the Australian climate can be, it came this weekend. The bushfires that swept Victoria over the weekend (and are still continuing) have already claimed 108 lives and 750 homes, making it one of the worst natural disasters in Australia’s history. That’s on the back of a debilitating heat wave that has swept over South Australia and Victoria over the past fortnight with 35C plus temperatures and ridiculously low humidity scorching an already dry land.
It seems frivolous to talk about wine in the face of such a massive human tragedy then, but 2009 will go down as a hard one for many vignerons too. In the Yarra Valley, fire has reputedly destroyed wineries, vineyards and cellars. This article details the quite miraculous escape of those at Chateau Yering and Yering Station and gives an insight into the conditions. Domaine Chandon, the Australian arm of Moet & Chandon, apparently lost just a few rows of vines, however the Sticks winery apparently lost quite a bit more, here’s hoping that they where only minor losses and nobody was hurt. I’ve nabbed the picture below of the Sticks vineyard damages from the amazing photos up on The Age gallery
Beyond the Yarra, we have heard little several other wine regions threatened by fire, including Beechworth where fires where still raging as of this morning and Bendigo where another life was lost. Latest reports also put the Goulburn Valley at risk. The Age has put together a slightly morbid fire map, correct of this morning here
Aside from the fires, the extreme heat has served to destroy this years crop for more than one producer, particularly in Langhorne Creek & McLaren Vale, with crop losses expected in the Barossa, Clare Valley, Coonawarra & Limestone Coast.
On Ric Einstein’s site www.torbwine.com, his friend from McLaren Vale reported in on his own vineyard and what its like:
‘”The grapes throughout the area are pretty much stuffed – some of the red grapes have already been harvested! No prizes for guessing the qualityof the wines they will produce. I couldn’t imagine any great wines being salvaged from this region’s grapes. My vineyard is a patchwork – some serious leaf burn (like someone has taken a cosmic blowtorch to them), some vines are still sound, others have had significant leaf senescence, some are not through veraison and others have turned red and already started to shrivel – but no flavour in the grapes at all. Hope this paints the picture!”
In Victoria, the poor Yarra has lost up to a quarter of its crop, the Grampians even more so. The always entertaining Mr White writes about it here with some harrowing stories from the producers mouth here.
It’s hard times all round if your a vigneron in South Australia and Victoria.
Its scary, hard, harrowing stuff all round – good luck to all those battling the conditions, those still threatened by fire, those staring at a vineyard full of sunburnt grapes and everybody else touched by the extremities of the Australian climate at present..
Update Tues 9:46am
A typically brilliant piece from Phillip White here
Update Tues 12:26pm
Good news from Mandala wines:
“Despite many reports to the contrary, the Mandala Cellar Door, Restaurant and family home are remarkably intact suffering no structural damage during the fire.”
More here at The Wine Front
Update Wed 1:59pm
Fire on top of drought related stress. Yes its a bugger of a time in the Yarra. This from great Yarra winery Warramate that I visited just 9 months ago.
“It got within 500m of the farm, but our main concern now is loss of fruit from the hot weather, which will inevitably cause a significant crop reduction.”
“Yarra Yarra has been burnt by the devastating fires in Steels Creek on Saturday 7th February. Sadly many lives have been lost. Most importantly we are safe, but have suffered significant losses in both the winery and vineyards, however we are still operational.
The greatest loss has been our collection of back-vintages
It seems a little morose to be reporting this (disrespectful almost to call it an update), however well regarded wine distributor Rob Davey (who was based in fire ravaged Kinglake) has also been confirmed as a victim of the fire, along with his young family (more here). Davey wine merchants are the East Coast distributors for Mt Billy wines, No.1 Wine Company and Fairhall Downs amongst others. Condolences to his family.