Feathertop Wines’ vines will remain unharvested due to smoke taint

By Struan Jones

One of the Alpine Valley region’s largest wine producers, Feathertop Wines of Porepunkah, has announced it will not produce a 2020 vintage due to smoke-tainted grapes from the January bushfires.

Feathertop winemaker and president of the Alpine Valleys Vignerons (AVV) Nick Toy described the decision as “heartbreaking” and a “huge blow to our business”, but said the winery had enough stocks of wines to see the business through until next year’s vintage.

“This is obviously the result of extensive smoke taint, which we’ve seen not only in the Alpine Valleys but right the way through North East Victoria,” he said.

“It’s a decision we have not taken lightly.”

According to the Australian Wine Research Institute, smoke taint can result in wines “with undesirable sensory characters, such as smoky, burnt, ashy or medicinal.”

Bushfire smoke descended on the region through early- to mid-January, often reaching hazardous levels before clearing after rainfall later in the month.

Mr Toy said the winery spent five weeks testing 17 varieties of grapes but results revealed molecules that cause smoke taint being three to seven times above what the accepted threshold levels are in grapes.

Feathertop Winery would normally produce 8000-9000 cases of wine per year.

“It’s such a shame because the vines were looking so healthy, the crop was looking absolutely magnificent.”

Speaking on behalf of the AVV which encompasses winemakers in the Ovens, Buckland, Buffalo, Kiewa and Happy Valleys, Mr Toy said a number of grape growers were still making decisions on this year’s vintage.

“It’s still early days. A lot of the grapes are being picked right now, tested right now, and trial batched right now,” he said.

Neighbouring winemaker Mark Holm of Ringer Reef said he was remaining “optimistic” about salvaging what he could from some of the white varieties.

“We’re picking a small amount of whites and just giving it a go. We’ll trial some whites, we think we’ll certainly have issues with the reds,” Mr Holm said.

“If they do show up with smoke, they won’t make it into bottle.”

Mr Holm said he had arranged to buy two parcels of white varieties from Coonawarra to produce a Chardonnay and a Riesling.

The Alpine Shire Council last week approved rate relief for a quarter of the 2019/20 financial year for bushfire-affected commercial wineries and vineyards.

This article was originally published in Victoria’s Wangaratta Chronicle.

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Image: Feathertop Wines, Struan Jones