Counting the cost of the fires on the Australian wine industry

Since September 2019, catastrophic and widespread Australian bushfires have raged. Fires are still burning in some regions, while others are giving way to extreme flooding. And while much of the media coverage has understandably focused on the human lives affected, and the animal species now at risk of extinction, the Australian wine industry has also been badly affected.

How are the fires affecting the Australian wine industry?

South Australia’s Adelaide Hills wine region has been particularly badly impacted. It is estimated that a third of all wine producers from this region have been affected in some way.

For example, Vinteloper’s David Bowley has seen his whole business, home and all of his vineyards go up in smoke. This has increased sales of Bowley’s product in the short term, with buyers wanting to help in any way they can. Other producers badly hit include Henschke, which has seen severe damage inflicted on its vineyard in Lenswood.

The other main wine region that has been very badly affected is Hunter Valley in New South Wales. This region makes excellent shiraz and a much-loved and unique style of Semillon.

Smoke taint could be a problem for years to come

And it’s not just the loss of vines that are causing problems for Australia’s winemakers. Smoke taint is also a huge problem, due to the widespread and persistent layer of smoke hovering over the vineyards. This tainted flavour can stick to wines as they age. This is why Tyrell, one of the most popular wine makers in the Hunter Valley region, says it will make 80% less wine this year.

There are many Australian wines that haven’t been affected at all or affected only slightly. It’s definitely worthwhile for wine lovers to head out to Australia and seek out less famous winemakers. There are loads of small producers all over the country that aren’t on UK shelves, but are very much worth trying.

Visitors to Sydney, for example, will find lots of wines they’ve never heard of, but will almost certainly enjoy. For example, the Field Blend Rouge from Tasmania, which has a lovely fresh flavour. Or the lush and decadent Bluebird Botrytis Viognier, from the Rylstone Estate in New South Wales, which is the ideal dessert wine.

Here are 4 Australian wines worth checking out

  1. Tyrell’s Hunter Valley Semillon 2017

The 2020 vintage may be small, but you should still buy am older Semillon. It’s really fresh, light and has lots of citrussy notes. It’s also quite light on the alcohol at 11%, making it perfect for a lunchtime treat at the weekend.

  1. Exquisite Clare Valley Riesling

This is also very citrusy, with lots of lime flavours. Fresh, light and delightful with Thai or Japanese food.

  1. Bird in Hand Sparkling Pinot Noir

This sparkling rose is the perfect treat for Valentine’s Day. It’s from a vineyard in the Adelaide Hills that has been hit by the bush fires, but not too badly.

  1. Ebenezer & Seppeltsfield Shiraz 2018

This is a deep, rich Barossa that’s worth storing for up to six years before cracking open for that special dinner party.

How much have the fires damaged the Australian wine industry?

As the deadly bushfires continue to rage across Australia, speculation is growing over the potential damage caused to the Australian wine industry. Of course, there has been insurmountable destruction, with estimates of more than one billion animals dead and fears of extinction for some species.

And while some vineyards have been catastrophically damaged according to Wine Australia, it also says that just 1% of the total vineyards in the country are in the danger zones.

Total impact on Australian wine industry not yet known

Vineyards and wineries across Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales are thought to have suffered serious damage according to the industry body. It could take years for the land to recover from the devastation wreaked by the fires. However, there are no complete damage assessments as yet. This is because, in many cases, it’s not yet safe for people to go back to the vineyards.

Wine Australia says that a complete picture of the damage caused by the fires will take time to come together. Of course, the wine industry has not been the main focus at a time when fires are sweeping the country. Since September 2019, 27 people have been killed, mass evacuations from places like Victoria and New South Wales have been instigated.

According to estimates from the University of Sydney’s professor Chris Dickman, around one billion animals are already dead due to the fires.

Putting the bushfires into context

Wine Australia is focusing on giving some context for the impact on the country’s wine industry, against the background of wider issues. It says that just 1% of Australia’s vineyards are in fire zones. Furthermore, it points out that not all of that 1% has been damaged by the fires.

A spokesperson from Wine Australia told decanter.com that “… as of 6 January 2020, less than 1% of Australian vineyards” may have been impacted. In some specific areas, the damage is higher. For example, almost a third of vineyards located in the Adelaide Hills region have been impacted by fire.

CEO of Wine Australia, Andreas Clark says that understanding the extent of the damage will take time. He goes in to explain that while it’s easy to see immediately when vines are burning, it takes a lot longer to find out how much they’re damaged due to the heat.

Global support needed for communities damaged by fires

Wine Australia continues to work with the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI), Australian Grape & Wine, local agencies and Government bodies to work out an immediate response and a plan for the long term.

One of the key ways that growers can be supported will be with a campaign to encourage tourism over the medium to long term. Tony Battaglene, CEO for Australian Grape & Wine says: “We need donations to the relief funds, support for our emergency services, and consumers to buy our wines.”

Over here in the UK, a number of London restaurants are creating wine-based events to raise money for communities adversely affected by the Australian fires. The fallout from this year’s fires will continue to impact the industry for a long time to come, and until the fires are under control it’s difficult to work out just how much Australian wine will suffer.

For the rest of the world, it’s a timely warning of the mass destruction climate change is causing, and how the global wine industry will be affected. Donations can go to the Australian Red Cross if you’d like to help the current situation.