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16/02/2009

Max Allen's report from the fire-affected Yarra Valley

After the fire

by Max Allen

I drove out to the Yarra Valley on Friday 13 February.

Along the Maroondah Highway between Lilydale and Healesville, there was little indication that the region had been attacked by a firestorm just a few days before. Vineyards, wineries and restaurants here, on the main tourist strip, are untouched.

It’s only when you get off the main drag, up St Huberts Road, out past Yarra Glen, through Dixon’s Creek or along the Healesville-Yarra Glen Road that you can trace, in the blackened paddocks, scorched trees and burned vine rows, the frantic course of the fire on that dreadful Saturday last week.

And it’s not until you drive up through Steels’ Creek that you come face-to-face with the full, horrific extent of the tragedy. This story from The Age on Sunday 15 February is a graphic re-telling of what happened there: http://www.theage.com.au/national/listen-to-that-roar-its-coming-20090215–87y8.html

Kate Kirkhope, whose biodynamically-farmed Kiltynane Estate vineyard is on the Healesville-Yarra Glen at Tarrawarra, is putting on a brave face. She says she’s one of the lucky ones. She had a good vintage in 2008, so there is wine in the cellar, waiting to be sold. But there will be no 2009 vintage, as Kate’s vineyard was completely burned last Saturday.

I hadn’t heard about what happened at Kiltynane before I went out to the valley. So it was a shock to turn the bend in the road coming out from Healesville and come across the charred vineyard.

Somehow, Kate and her partner managed to save the house, the winery and the stables, but the fire claimed all the land around. Some of the four hectares of pinot noir will probably bounce back, but she says the lower block, the vines that felt the full force of the fire as it came in from the south-west, may have to be bulldozed.

Kate’s email address is

Kiltynane is one of many vineyards that were damaged or destroyed by fire in the Yarra Valley and other parts of Victoria last weekend. And the danger is not yet passed; no-one’s relaxed.

Will de Castella, from Jean-Paul’s Vineyard outside Yea, where fires are still burning, emailed me yesterday, neatly summing up the situation. Will lost most of his vineyard to bushfires in 2006, so he’s acutely aware of the danger: "The fires have been to the south, the west, and the east of us, all about 5–10km away. I have spent the last week on the fire truck. The smoke is more of a concern at this stage, but the fires are not out yet," Will said.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Some of these events may have sold out already, but it’s still good to be aware of how people are trying to help.

The Australian Wine Trade Bushfire Raffle Since sending out a call for donations on Friday, Bert Werden from WineStar has been inundated by the most remarkable collection of wines and other prizes for a major fundraising raffle. Tickets due to become available from a number of retailers — online and in the real world — soon. http://www.winestar.com.au/forum/viewtopic.php?t=20182

Stones of the Yarra Valley Stones restaurant — which narrowly avoided major damage from the fire which burned through the middle of the valley — is hosting a fundraising dinner on March 8, with food by Greg Malouf from MoMo, The Press Club’s George Calombaris, Frank Camorra from MoVida, Riccardo Momesso from Sarti, The Brasserie’s Phillipe Mouchel and Ian Curley from the European, and wines organised by James Halliday. Cost is $200 a head, with all proceeds going to the Red Cross Bushfire Appeal. http://www.stonesoftheyarravalley.com

Libertine Benefit Dinner Zoe and Nick at Libertine are holding a special fundraising dinner on March 2 to pay tribute to much-loved wine distributor Rob Davey and his young family, who died in the fire at Kinglake last weekend. Cost is $145 a head, with all proceeds to the Red Cross. Telephone +613 9329 5228 or email

La Luna Benefit Dinner Adrian Richardson and the team at this renowned Carlton bistro are holding a fundraising dinner on February 23. Cost is $70 and all proceeds will go to the Red Cross appeal. http://www.lalunabistro.com.au

Long Live the Healesville Hotel Despite having to close due to the threat of the fires, and despite being broken into by some total scumbag on the Sunday night, the Hotel — a favourite haunt for the Yarra’s wine community — is open again and needs your patronage, as do all the region’s restaurants and cellar doors. Recovery special: the pub’s famous burger and a beer for $15. What are you waiting for? http://www.healesvillehotel.com.au

Sommeliers Australia Still on the drawing board, this one, but the plan is, during the month of March, for sommeliers across Australia to pour wines from those vineyards affected by the fires, to both help out financially and also to maintain awareness and support. http://www.sommeliers.com.au

Max Allen’s report from his visit to the Yarra Valley last Friday to investigate the extent of the fire damage was first distributed to subscribers of Red, White and Green, Max’s online news service dedicated to biodynamic wine producers, www.redwhiteandgreen.com.au

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