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10/02/2009

Victoria speaks on the impact of fire

Anita Donaldson, Lauren Jones and Sonya Logan

The consequences of the fires of Saturday February 7, 2009 have resonated across Victoria, and the wine industry has not escaped its share of the fury of a firestorm that has devastated the State and the nation.

“Our first priority is a concern for the human element in the equation”, says VWIA chief executive, Joanne Butterworth-Gray. “The human resources that support our agriculturally-based industry are the most valuable, and we need to ensure that there has been no loss of life as a result of the devastation wreaked by the fires.”

“At times like this, communication is extremely difficult,” Joanne commented, “with roads still closed and all human lives still not accounted for. The VWIA understands that there have been some assets lost, however the full impact will not be known for some days.”

On a brighter note, Butterworth-Gray was relieved to observe that “the smoke from the fires did not hang about for very long – we were lucky that a southerly wind meant that smoke moved fairly quickly from the Yarra Valley – the region most affected by fire. The situation is quite different from that of 2007, when lack of prevailing wind resulted in smoke sitting for days on end in regions across the State.”

“Victoria is also fortunate that the proportion of the State’s wine production that suffered direct impact from the weekend’s fires is small. A full assessment of loss will be undertaken over the next few weeks.”

Winetitles has received early reports of some vineyard losses in Victoria, though as Butterworth-Gray points out, communication in the areas of some of these vineyards has made confirming these details difficult.

A spokesperson for the Yarra Valley Winegrowers Association said the organisation had yet been unable to make an assessment of the number of vineyard and wineries destroyed by the fire. With phones and emails still down in some areas, it had been "very difficult to get any accurate information", he said.

"It's worth pointing out that most of the fires have been in the hills surrounding the Valley," the spokesperson said.

Several contacts told us the Yarra region had suffered some significant losses through the fire itself with properties around Yarra Glen and north into Dixons Creek burned.

While Butterworth-Gray noted the smoke had moved on from Yarra Valley, Winetitles was told the regions around King Valley, Alpine Valley, Beechworth, Milawa, Glenrowan and even up to Rutherglen might be affected by smoke to varying degrees. The fires that had been burning for several weeks around the Grampians prior to the weekend’s firestorms nearer Melbourne were also anticipated to cause some degree of smoke taint concern.

One of Winetitles’ correspondents, John Kennedy, who writes for the Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine lost property to the Buxton fire. Kennedy said there was a 20km stretch of the Maroondah Highway with “almost no building left standing” either side of the road.

“I am told Roundstone Vineyard in the Yarra Valley was lost, the volume of smoke in the air on the weekend was unreal. Smoke taint will again be a significant problem for a number of vineyards. The fire going near Beechworth will affect a lot of the north-east. There is almost no phone connection available in the fire-affected areas,” Kennedy said.

Winetitles’ publications Australian Viticulture and Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker will have more on the fires in future editions, including new information relating to smoke taint research.

What impact has the Victorian bushfire had on you and your vineyard or winery? Tell us your story, email and

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