Australian fires: Vineyard damage reported in New South Wales

Following news that as much as a third of vines growing in South Australia’s Adelaide Hills have been burnt, damage has been reported in the state of New South Wales, specifically in the Tumbarumba region.

Image: Johansen Wines

Fires reached emergency levels in New South Wales back in November last year, with some 60 fires blazing in the state.

Speaking at the time, Angus Barnes, executive officer of the New South Wales Wine Industry Association, said despite fires affecting the Sydney, Hunter and Illawarra/Shoalhaven areas, he was not aware of any direct damage to vines.

However, in an email sent to the drinks business yesterday, he reported that a number of vineyards have now been burnt in the Tumbarumba region, with authorities still assessing the damage.

Among those affected was family-owned Johansen Wines. In a statement posted on social media, the Helle Southwell said she was forced to evacuate the property after fires approached her vineyards on New Year’s Eve.

The producer’s Mountain View vineyard was “nearly entirely burnt out”, with a small amount of Gamay and Merlot vines remaining. The local fire service helped to save the family home and hay shed, but the property’s machinery shed, other hay sheds, water tanks and vineyard infrastructure were destroyed.

Fortunately Johansen’s Glenburnie vineyard remains standing, with the Pinot Noir vines only slightly singed on one side.

Southwell added: “We’ve always known we live in a great part of the world, but seeing the community spirit over the last week has just proven such.

“There is a lot to sink in, it’s hard to even imagine how to begin to rebuild and repair, but for now we focus on keeping Glenburnie safe and getting feed to the livestock.

“Our hearts break for all those who have lost property or homes. It’s going to be a long road, but hopefully one we can adapt to. A massive shoutout to our amazing customers who placed orders with us online this support will go a long way to helping us rebuild the vineyard.”

Also caught up in the fires was Courabyra Wines, which has experienced some damage to vines, however the cellar door, sheds and main property remain standing.

In a post on social media, the winery thanked members of the public for their messages of support and customers who placed wine orders to help fund repairs.

Tumbarumba is a relatively cool climate region, with vineyards ranging in altitude from around 300 metres to over 800m in the western foothills of the Snowy Mountains. There are over 25 producers in the region with around 219ha under vine, according to Wine Australia.

While rain has been forecast in some parts of the state, Barnes said it is not enough “to put these terrible fires out”.

“Our number one concern is to ensure the safety and security of our people in the wine and wine grape growing industry,” he said.

“We have concerns regarding smoke taint across a number of regions in NSW, and as we speak, we are conducting a series of fire and smoke workshops across the state to advise our growers and winemakers about the challenges of smoke and the possibility to test for any damage.

“We are working with a number of major research institutions. It is still too early to ascertain if any grapes have been strongly affected by smoke, and we are hopeful that as many regions are still not close to harvest time, that damage will be negligible.”

While no wine related fundraising effort has been set up in New South Wales, Barnes encourages those that wish to help those affected to buy bottles of New South Wales wines and to visit wineries in the region.

Wineries are open and ready to serve you,” he said. “We are very concerned about the negative impact on tourism and we have seen a reduction in visitation over this important holiday period.”

This follows news that around 1,100ha of vines have been destroyed in the Adelaide Hills wine region. 

Along with Golding Wines, which reported on 20 December that it had experienced damage to its vines, a number of other wine producers were also affected.

These include Anderson Hill, ArtWine, Barristers Block, Bird in Hand, Emmeline Wines, Geoff Weaver, Henschke, New Era Vineyards, Nova Vita Wines, Petaluma, Riposte Wines, Simon Tolley Wines, Tilbrook Estate, Tomich Wines, Turon Wines and Vinteloper.

Fires: the facts

According to Australia’s Rural Fire Service, a record 4.9 million hectares (the size of Slovakia) has been scorched in New South Wales during the current bushfire season.

Taking Australia as a whole, a total of 8.4m hectares – the size of Ireland – has been burnt. A total of 25 people are known to have been killed in fires since September, including volunteer firefighters.

In a statement released earlier this month, Professor Chris Dickman of the University of Sydney estimated that as many as 480 million animals have been killed in the state of New South Wales since fires started in September 2019.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has confirmed that 2019 was both Australia’s hottest and driest year on record.

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