Wildfires Hit Vineyards Again

NSW Fire and Rescue picture

With the holiday season almost upon us, this Blog was simply going to send festive greetings and thanks to all my readers. But the worsening news about the catastrophic wildfires in Australia changed my mind. I was already thinking that, for many in the wine industry and beyond, 2019 has not been a good year. Last month, I blogged about fires hitting the Sonoma wine region in California and now our TV screens are full of the apparently even worse situation in Australia which has, tragically, claimed a number of lives including those of brave fire fighters. The picture above shows some of the work by the New South Wales Fire Service.

Two areas in particular have been mentioned in connection with the Australian fires – one north of Sydney, the other east of Adelaide; both are key winemaking regions.  The Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, is one of Australia’s oldest vineyard areas, first planted in the 1830s and now the source of unique Semillons and robust Shiraz. The Adelaide Hills are more recent – ironically the result of winemakers looking for cooler, upland areas where they can create delicate Chardonnays. The extent of damage in both areas won’t be clear for some time but early reports speak of widespread damage to vineyards, winery equipment and stocks built up over many years.

Golding wines fires

(Picture from Golding Wines)

All who have enjoyed wines from these regions will surely join me in expressing our deepest sympathy to the families and employees who have lost so much.

In sending seasons greetings, I also hope that 2020 will bring better news to all.

Fires hit vineyards again

Sonoma fires(picture thanks to NCG and wine-searcher)

For anyone who loves wine or is involved in the industry, watching the news over the last couple of weeks has been really distressing. I refer, of course, to the terrible wildfires that are, yet again this year, devasting parts of California. Thankfully, at the time of writing, it seems that no-one has died but the loss of vineyards and at least one major winery means that the local industry, especially in the famous Sonoma Valley, will take some time to fully recover. It’s not clear yet how much damage has been done and, of course, it’s too soon to say when any replanting can take place. But new vines don’t produce a crop instantly; it will be at least 3 years before they bear any usable grapes and possibly another decade before they start having fruit of good enough quality to yield the top quality wines we expect from this prestigious area.

And what of this year’s crop? Here, the news is mixed. Many of the estates had already harvested so the grapes for the 2019 vintage should be fermenting by now. However, ferments need to be monitored and often cooled, so any interruption in power supply or in workers being able to access the winery could be a problem. And, in those sites where picking hadn’t started or was still underway, even where the vineyards are not affected by the flames, it’s likely that any grapes remaining on the vines will be useless due to smoke taint.

So, all in all, a pretty depressing picture and one that, I’m afraid, with global warming, is likely to become more, rather than less common. Meanwhile, we can only offer our sympathy to those affected and raise a glass in support of their efforts to recover.