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Australia - Estimated 4% of grape crop damaged by fire and smoke

Australia’s 2019/20 bushfire season has gone down in history as one of its worst. Fires, which started in June 2019, have since burned an area of around 18.6 million hectares and claimed the lives of 34 people.

Fires were burning in all six states, however, the damage was concentrated in areas within South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales.

Using national vineyard scan data and information from firefighting agencies, Wine Australia revealed in January 2020 that around 1% of Australia’s total vineyard area, less than 1,500ha, had been damaged in the fires.

Losses were concentrated in certain areas: it is believed that a third of the 3,300ha of vines in Adelaide Hills were affected, while damage was also reported in parts of New South Wales, specifically in the Tumbarumba Region.

As the weeks went by, a number of wineries announced they were dramatically reducing, or indeed not making wine in 2020 due to smoke taint. Two of the country’s leading wine science organizations, National Wine and Grape Industry Centre (NWGIC) and Charles Sturt University in New South Wales, announced that they were working with growers to help test grape samples.

Wine Australia has now released a further estimate, factoring in the impact of smoke taint. It predicts that losses will equate to 60,000 tonnes (4% of the national grape crop).

It is important to stress that it is still too early to assess the full impact of the smoke. Wine Australia has said that the 4% figure incorporates both the smoke and fire losses, in other words, the 1% fire damage figure is included as part of the 4%.

Commenting on the state of play in Australia, Anita Poddar, corporate affairs manager of Wine Australia, said: “At the moment the Hunter Valley and Canberra are among the regions most significantly impacted by smoke as they were closer to vintage and the impact of smoke is greater as grapes ripen. While Canberra, the town, is in the Australian Capital Territory, the greater part of the Canberra geographical indication region falls into New South Wales.

“There are other regions at risk including obvious parts of the Adelaide Hills, Tumbarumba in New South Wales and the north-eastern Alpine regions in Victoria, but as they are still some weeks away from vintage (ironically despite the dry conditions that led to the fires we are having an exceptionally cool summer and now autumn so vintage is a little later than usual) we are not sure whether they will be affected and to what degree they will be affected, however, the 4% figure allows for losses in those regions.”

The industry body has also released two fire maps, showing the fire damage in South Eastern Australia, and a close up on Adelaide Hills, as of 17 February. No significant fires have started up since this date.

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