Grape growers breathe a sigh of relief in wake of bushfires

Wine Gippsland president and Blue Gables Vineyard director Alistair Hicks says wine growers in Wellington appear to have escaped smoke taint.
Wine Gippsland president and Blue Gables Vineyard director Alistair Hicks says wine growers in Wellington appear to have escaped smoke taint.

IN good news for local winegrowers, smoke from the east Gippsland fires that threatened to taint grape crops may not be as damaging as first thought, following testing that has not detected smoke taint.

The situation appeared dire a fortnight ago, as smoke blanketed parts of the region and growers such as Glenmaggie Wines owner Tony Dawson feared the loss of an entire crop.

Fortunately, conditions have improved since then and growers have been able to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Wine Gippsland president and Blue Gables Vineyard owner Alistair Hicks said it looked to be business as usual as the harvest months approached.

"It looked like it was going to set in for a while there, and then after the first week of January [the smoke] cleared out," he said.

"Locally on our site we've had three days what I would consider high intensity, but that all happened before veraison [the onset of ripening].

"The season is a little bit later this year which has been a bit of a savour as well, because asthe sugar levels ripen up through veraison and the grapes start to change colour - that's when they're most susceptible for smoke taint.

"With the season being a couple of weeks delayed this year compared to the last few years, that's to our advantage.

"The weather has been pretty clear of late.

"A few people locally have had their grapes analysed and they've got results back that they are all clear below detectable thresholds.

"We've begun picking our first pick for sparkling wines and sauv blanc will be a couple of weeks after that."

The Australian Wine Research Institute has conducted seminars on smoke taint for local growers, with the roadshow making its way to areas that smoke may have drifted into such as the Yarra Valley, King Valley, Mornington and parts of Gippsland.

"Basically they talked about how to detect for the presence of smoke and the effect of smoke taint on wine," Mr Hicks said.

"There was also a professor that came from Latrobe University who spoke of thresholds of smoke, the effect of smoke in an area and smoke intensity and how that affects the uptake of smoke taint into the fruit."

The state government recently announced a $2.5 million package to help wine growers and producers affected by the bushfires.

The support package includes $1.2 million for potential smoke exposure testing for growers, which will provide a rebate to help growers get smoke exposure tests from specialist labs.

Mr Hicks welcomed the announcement, saying it would be of help to growers.

"There have been some small business support packages, but I think the main one at the moment is the funding for these regional seminars that have gone around, and also some rebates for some testing," he said.

"It costs about $300 to get your fruit analysed per variety, so if you have six varieties it's $1800 you have to fork out.

"If you are selling fruit then it's obviously wise to have your fruit tested, because the buyer wants to know if the fruit's going to be impacted down the track."

The rebate will be capped at $1200 per grower, and will be available state-wide.

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