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Threat of smoke-tainted grapes from CALM fires

Controlled fires lit by Western Australia’s Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) flared out of control in early April in the Margaret River region threatening grapes to become smoke-tainted and costing hundred of thousands of dollars of damage to growers.

Fire-fighters battled to fight the fire north of Forrest Grove Road, which began on Thursday 6 October and continued to burn out of control throughout the weekend. When the fire was finally contained on Monday the ground continued to smolder, black smoke hung over the surrounding vineyards and the Margaret River Wine Industry Association began to ask questions.

“It is a well-known fact that smoke taint does impact on grapes and comes out in finished wine which in turn is not a suitable product for the market,” Ron Fraser, president of the Margaret River Wine Industry Association said. “So that means that people just have to basically throw their product away.”

Ron said the effects of smoke taint was a highlighted issue in 2005 when a number of vineyards in the south of the state had to throw out whole vintages after fires. He believed that CALM’s major deficiency was not communicating with the growers. Ron believes that this situation could be avoided of happening again if CALM held off on backburns and burnoffs until after the harvest had been completed, “It would only be a matter of weeks,” he said.

The most effected vineyard in the area was that of Eagle Vale where heavy black smoke covered the property for days, causing the winery to close for four days and their harvesting to cease. At one stage the fire was five metres from the property and was surrounded by 100 firemen, 40 fire trucks and five aeroplanes

“We are the most effected because we were right in middle of the fire,” Guy Gallienne, winemaker and viticulturist from the Eagle Vale winery said. “There was ash everywhere on the vineyard.”

“We noticed the fire on late Thursday night but didn’t think twice until the next morning when it was realised that the fire was out of control. We kept on picking the grapes but the roads were closed so we couldn’t get the truck through to take the grapes away. Eventually we managed to get the grapes off the property.

“Our main concern was for our lives and of course for our property.”

Guy does not know yet of the extent of the damage that the fire has caused to his property but it is the lack of communication from CALM that upsets him the most.

“What we are really disappointed in is the lack of communication between CALM and the growers. It was never communicated that CALM would be conducting the burn-offs. The growers were left in the dark.”

“We still have our red variety to pick but it rained overnight so the ash has been washed away from the fruit.”

“But CALM have been good to us, they’ve been on the property for days protecting our property. We have a five-hectare lake on the property so we’re letting the fire-fighters use the water. CALM are doing all they can to protect us.”

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