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Australia - Hunter Valley down roughly 15 million each month since bushfires

The Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association reports that the Hunter Valley has suffered a staggering $42 million loss in tourism revenue over the last three months.

Shadow Minister for Agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon has called on the Government to recognise ‘smoke-taint’ as bushfire damage, as the Australian wine industry faces a catastrophic harvest season.

As much as 90 per cent of the Hunter Valley’s 2020 harvest will not be made into wine this year because of smoke-taint, from fires that started in November, said Mr Fitzgibbon, also federal member for Hunter. Other NSW growing areas such as Cowra and Mudgee face similar news.

“The Government has announced a $75,000 emergency grant for agriculture damaged by the bushfires, but smoke-taint will probably be excluded from the damage criteria,” said Mr Fitzgibbon. “Wine is a $40 billion industry in this country – we have major viticulture operations in the Hunter that have written-off their 2020 harvest. They’re being cut to the ground or fed to the cattle.”

Smoke-taint occurs when the fruit absorbs too much smoke and sours, creating undrinkable wine. Supply contracts for growers contain a clause that allows wine-makers to refuse smoke-tainted grapes.

Early harvesters from the famous Broke and Pokolbin areas of the Hunter Valley sent their grapes to the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) for pre-sale analysis and the smoke taint readings were in some case multiples of the allowable level.

The $75,000 agriculture grants announced by Bridget McKenzie’s office in mid-January were intended for crops, livestock and equipment damaged by bushfires, and the funding was placed with state governments to administer the grants.

Mr Fitzgibbon said the NSW Minister for Agriculture had indicated that smoke-taint would not be covered in the grants criteria which suggested other states would also exclude it.

“New South Wales harvests grapes early,” said Mr Fitzgibbon. “Growers in Hunter, Mudgee and Cowra areas are facing extensive crop losses. The Victorian and South Australian growers will be sending their grapes to the AWRI over the coming weeks for analysis and if the results are not good, the Australian wine industry faces a major hit in 2020.

“I call on Minister McKenzie to clarify the criteria for these bushfire grants and ensure smoke-taint is included as agricultural damage. Wine is a $3 billion export business for Australia, and our viticulture areas support major tourism industries.”

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