Victorian losses from bushfire and smoke taint

While fire conditions worsen in Victorian wine regions, some of Australia’s grapegrowers and wine producers from Gippsland, in Victoria, are still in the early days of damage assessment from recent bushfires which struck the region.

As a region affected by recent fire activity, the main concern growers in the East Gippsland area have, is the damage to winegrapes from smoke taint.

Ken Eckersley, owner of Nicholson River Winery in East Gippsland, commented that, at present, the region is playing a waiting game to get a clearer picture of the impact caused by fires in the region.

“My understanding is that the most opportune time for smoke taint to damage winegrapes is during veraison, which is coming up fairly soon for us in the region,” he said.

“The most immediate thing I have seen of growers’ reactions to the bushfire situation, is that there are some who have completely written off the 2020 vintage for a variety of reasons, whether it be the grapes have been lost to the fires, or growers are worried about smoke taint.

“I think, at the moment, it’s just a bit of a waiting game. We need some time to assess the full extent of the damages and find a way to recover from there.”

Angie Bradbury, chair of Wine Victoria, agreed that it is still too early to really grasp the full extent of the situation. However, she mentioned that the organisation is already making headway to find out.

“Our intel from the regions is that there has been some losses to vineyards in East Gippsland but we don’t have the confirmed details as yet,” she said.

“We put a survey out earlier last week in order to ascertain those crucial details and hope to have a better understanding in the next week.”

Both Eckersley and Bradbury continued that the recent damage from fires in the area does not solely belong to the 2020 vintage.

“As for tourism, it is safe to say that the fires have had a devastating impact on cellar door trade and tourism for Gippsland and the North East, with closures, evacuations and travel warnings across the busiest trading time of the year,” Bradbury stated.

“Usually, there are tens of thousands of tourists to the region and now we don’t think we will get anywhere near that,” continued Eckersley.

“There are already some signs that our tourism economy is suffering. People are now beginning to think our region is a smoke-filled, dangerous place and aren’t then willing to visit.

“We’re really hanging in the balance. It will take time to get back to how it was before the fires, not just for our region, but for all those that are effected.”

Image: The Drinks Business