Wine industry members from around Australia have seen firsthand the financial and social impacts of a phylloxera outbreak, during a Vinehealth Australia and Wine Yarra Valley Phylloxera Immersion Tour.
Held Tuesday 26th and Wednesday 27th November in the Yarra Valley, the tour included a visit to a phylloxera infested vineyard where the 35 growers, winemakers and other industry members saw the impact of phylloxera on vine health.
Dressed in chemical suits and wearing new rubber boots, the tour group used the dig detection method to examine vine roots for presence of phylloxera. For most, it was the first time seeing the tiny but destructive pests live in the field. After the dig, the suits were disposed of and the boots were disinfested safely and left in the Yarra Valley.
The tour group also heard a firsthand account of the initial 2006 outbreak in the Yarra from those who lived it. Phylloxera was positively identified in a section of eight-year-old ungrafted Cabernet Sauvignon vines in early December 2006. The vineyard was subsequently destroyed. Phylloxera has since spread throughout the region.
Attendees learnt about the community and industry response to the news of the outbreak including the social fracturing that occurred following the outbreak. It was a challenging time for the region.
Immersion Tour participants also saw disinfestation facilities at wineries and learnt about the cost of setting up facilities and the impact on vintage schedules.
They also learnt about the biology of phylloxera from Agriculture Victoria research scientist Catherine Clarke, heard about the CSIRO Rootstock Breeding Program from team leader Harley Smith and participated in a mock outbreak simulation, run by Vinehealth Australia’s Technical Manager Suzanne McLoughlin and CEO Inca Lee.
Tour participant Simon Tolley, from the Adelaide Hills, said the tour opened his eyes to the speed that phylloxera can spread and the cost and complication it adds to wine business operations.
“I’m going home with a renewed sense of purpose to keep phylloxera out of South Australia,” he said.
Inca said tour participants left with a far greater appreciation of the science and impact of phylloxera, and how the industry must work collectively to prevent its spread into uninfested regions and states, including South Australia.
“But there is still a lot of work and investment needed, by both industry and government, to better understand this pest and to prevent its spread,” she said.
“Two critical areas of work are developing an early detection method for phylloxera and ensuring access for growers to phylloxera-resistant rootstocks.
“And the simple message for vineyard owners is this: get serious about farm-gate hygiene. If growers assume that every person and machine coming onto their vineyard is infested, and they manage those risks accordingly, they’ll be in a good position to avoid a damaging outbreak.”
To assist with this, tour participants were given a kit including:
“Our aim is to arm industry members with all the tools and information they need to keep their vineyards safe,” Lee said.
Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA) supported seven South Australian wine industry members from around the state to attend the tour: Peter Bray (Langhorne Creek), Erin Stacey (McLaren Vale), Simon Tolley (Adelaide Hills), Steve Schiller (Barossa), Sarah Bird (Limestone Coast), David Zadow (Riverland) and Bradd Kelly (Clare). PIRSA is thanked for their support in facilitating SA representation on the tour.
Vinehealth Australia also thanks the Wine Yarra Valley Technical Group for its assistance with the tour, and the wineries who hosted the tour participants for educational experiences.