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$70m body blow

Alpine and King Valley grapegrowers have acted quickly to maintain product quality as the effects of prolonged smoke hits home on the vines.

Reeling from an estimated $70m body blow, the growers have combined to work with the Australian Wine Research Institute of South Australia in a series of extensive tests on local fruit.

The testing is expected to provide answers on the best way to handle smoke tainting in the future, putting the two premium wine regions at the forefront of knowledge which will be used worldwide.

But the growers are resigned to the fact that the 2007 vintage will be only 30% of the previous year as a result of the ongoing drought, two severe frosts and now the extended bushfires.

The combined harvest across both regions in 2006 was 20,000 tonnes with a flow on value to the wine industry well in excess of $100m.

Growers have accepted that much of this year’s vintage has been lost, with only very selective hand-picking taking place to ensure the quality of the wines being produced.

The major aim now is to ensure the high quality brand that the two valleys now enjoy.

“This has been a challenging year for the whole industry, not just those of us here in the King and Alpine Valley area,” president of the King Valley Vignerons Association, David Maples, said.

“The drought has been a major influence in productivity and this has been exacerbated by the lack of irrigation water. We have also had to face unprecedented frosts, which have had a devastating affect on yield and quality.”

Maples said the smoke affect phenomena first came to light after the 2003 bushfires.

“It is now better understood and both King and Alpine Valley growers have taken a proactive lead by conducting research and tests,” he said.

“With climate change come the increased potential threat of bushfires around the world. The future will see grapegrowers and wineries adding a smoke affect test to their quality assurance regime following local fires to ensure that no grape that is adversely affected by bushfire finds it way into the end product.”

Bob McNamara of the Alpine Valley Vignerons Association said the drought and the two severe frosts so late after budburst was devastating for the grapes.

“The regions now face a rebuilding of local industries, especially tourism, which has suffered dramatically because of the fires,” McNamara said.

Philip Nolan reports in the Bright Observer, 7 February 2007.

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