Winemaker could lose his entire crop

Glenmaggie Wines owner Tony Dawkins may not be able to harvest this years crop because of smoke from the east Gippsland fires.
Glenmaggie Wines owner Tony Dawkins may not be able to harvest this years crop because of smoke from the east Gippsland fires.

WINEMAKERS in smoke-affected parts of the region face the daunting prospect of losing entire crops as a spin-off from the bushfire crisis.

With smoke haze choking much of Victoria for the past two weeks, grapes beginning to ripen in vineyards may become unusable due to contamination.

Glenmaggie Wines owner Tony Dawkins said the situation did not look promising.

"At the moment I think it's pretty grim news," he said.

"I don't see any reason to think the smoke is going to disappear any time soon."

"From what I understand, we've already had enough smoke to taint the wine and the harvest is not for some weeks, so the crop is certainly compromised."

Mr Dawkins will send grape samples to the Australian Wine Research Institute in coming weeks to either confirm fears or offer a glimmer or hope.

The challenge for winemakers facing a decision on whether to harvest or not will be to risk the quality of their produce either being affected or noticed by those consuming it.

"Last year we had three days of smoke and I couldn't detect any taint in the wine at all," Mr Dawkins said.

While losing a crop would result in months of hard work going to waste, Mr Dawkins said it would not spell the end of business, provided things didn't go totally downhill.

"Time will tell," he said.

"I have stock and unsold wine, but I need to be replacing it every year," he said.

"Things can go wrong - if it's not smoke it could be disease, bird damage, or you make mistakes in the winery - there's all sorts of things that can go wrong.

"If this year is as bad as I think it is going to be, the real risk is what's next year going to be like?

"If this happens again, two years in a row, it will knock us out of the park.

"2007 was the last big smoky fire, and we lost the whole crop.

"We got through that, but to have two in a row would be devastating."

During the 2007 Great Divide South bushfire, Mr Dawkins bit the bullet and decided to harvest. "In 2007 we had six weeks of heavy smoke and that absolutely ruined it," he said.

"I should never have picked it; it was a mistake to harvest it," he said.

"When I made wine from smoke-affected fruit, straight after the ferment, the smoke was so strong you just didn't want to drink it.

"The bitter pill is that it actually gets worse.

"As the wine ages, the smoky flavours develop further and become more pronounced.

"I described it as essence of ash tray.

"I poured it down the drain; it was undrinkable."

With the possibility of smoke particles hanging around in the atmosphere for a while longer, Mr Dawkins was realistic about his chances of salvaging anything from this year's crop.

"I think we've already had enough and these grapes now are just beginning to ripen, so they're another six or so weeks off harvest.

"Another five weeks of smoke won't make it better," he said.

"The vines themselves are not affected, so I'll probably let the birds have the fruit if I'm not going to pick it.

"It's a shame.

"I'm reluctant to feed them - they're usually my number one enemy - but what else can you do?

"The vines are unaffected, so I'll prune as normal this winter and fingers crossed we have no smoke next year."