Some winemakers in Victoria have taken a hit after smoke from the bushfires tainted their grapes. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS

Environment

Wine, tourism hit in Vic bushfire region

2020-03-13 15:45:02

Winemakers in Victoria’s bushfire-ravaged northeast are counting the cost of the disaster, with at least one of them abandoning this year’s vintage.

Porepunkah winemaker Mick Dalbosco handed his grapes to experts for smoke testing and received a devastating result.

His vineyard’s 250 tonnes of fruit is so tainted he has decided against turning it into up to 700 litres of wine per tonne.

“This year has been disaster for us. A full year’s work and we won’t be using any of this for wine,” he told AAP on Thursday.

“We won’t be selling any of it.”

His vineyard, which he co-owns with his brother and father, is five kilometres from where bushfires raged two months ago.

“The closer you are to the fires, the more chance you are of being heavily affected,” the small-scale producer said.

He’s cutting his losses and the grapes too, with his sights set on the young vines for his next vintage.

Over in Milawa, Brown Brothers is not giving up and has been harvesting grapes for a month.

“Besides those two weeks of smoke, it’s been an absolutely beautiful year for growing fruit,” fourth-generation winemaker Katherine Brown said.

Some of the company’s fruit is headed for smoke-taint testing.

“We don’t actually understand how smoke affects the grapes and the full science behind it. We can send the grapes away for testing, we’ll get those numbers back but what those numbers actually tell us, we are yet to fully to understand,” she said.

“Some may not make it into a bottle of wine but we are going to learn from it.”

Commercial labs in Australia test the grapes to see if compounds in grapes are elevated, which may change its composition.

Then it’s up to the winemaker to decide if they will take the risk of bottling the product.

The volume of wine at Brown Brothers will be down but quality will not take a hit.

“We are going to make quality wine and we will only release quality wine,” Ms Brown said.

“Everyone is on board with that in the northeast.”

It comes after a haze of orange smoke from the summer bushfires lingered in the area for almost two weeks.

Industry expert Ian Porter said compounds from fires usually drop quickly but may have travelled farther than usual within the region.

“Smoke taint never gets in the bottle because they are making sure they don’t pick grapes that are above the threshold,” he said.

The region’s tourism numbers were down about 60 per cent in January but with Easter and the snow season coming, they are expected to bounce back.

Ms Brown said there is an easy way to support the region, even without visiting.

“Make sure you are drinking local wines,” she said.