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Black nightmare

Grapegrowers in Light Pass and Angaston are devastated after weekend frost left vineyards blackened and ruined.

Vines in low lying areas were particularly affected, with some growers potentially losing up to 80% of their yield.

“It’s a miserable situation. They had done all the hark work, pruned and sprayed, and the vines were coming into the flowering stage and looking very healthy. Then all of a sudden they are reduced to a shriveled up ugly mess,” said Peter

Nash, grower liaison for Peter Lehmann Wines. He spent most of Monday visiting the affected properties and advising growers.

“It’s disheartening but there’s not really a lot that can be done. They can cut back the old wood to encourage fresh shooting but so much labour is involved… is it worth doing? This is the dilemma growers are facing,” Nash said.

In an effort to encourage his badly damaged vines to re-shoot, Matthew Schiller has decided to irrigate his 35 acre property on Willows Road, Light Pass.

“It looks like a fire has gone through. I’ll probably pick about two to five tonne if I’m lucky, when I’d normally get around 125 tonne,” he said.

Schiller recalls similar frosts in 1995, but said they occurred about six weeks earlier, giving the vines more time to re-shoot.

“I’m lucky because I’ve got blocks elsewhere that didn’t get damaged but it’s still a lot of money down the drain.”

Frost also hit areas around Keyneton and Eden Valley earlier this month, with dry conditions and lack of rain playing a key role.

“A lot of soils that have been cultivated haven’t had the rain on them to seal the soil and they seem to be the worst hit blocks,” Nash said.

“It’s not a big area but its certainly very concentrated.”

Eight years ago Malcolm Vaughan decided to install a frost fan on his 70 acre vineyard in Hurns Road, Angaston, which was highly susceptible to frost. However, in a twist of fate, it malfunctioned on Saturday night, leaving his pricey Viognier grapes unprotected.

“It’s set to come into operation at 1.5 degrees and blow wind across the vineyard but the battery failed. Most of it is just about a wipe out although some areas are less affected,” he said.

However, Vaughan has maintained a positive outlook on the damage.

“Before we bought the fans we had a bad frost but the following year we had a bumper crop; we actually had to go through and thin the bunches. So 2008 could be a good year,” he said.

Despite the damage and resulting lower crop levels for some vignerons, the current wine oversupply is still expected to cause problems during next year’s vintage.

Koren Helbig reports in The Leader on Oct 25, 2006.

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