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Phylloxera strikes in Yarra Valley

Published:  23 July, 2008

By Max Allen
For the first time in its 170-year viticultural history, phylloxera has arrived slap bang in the centre of the Yarra Valley, one of Australia's leading cool-climate wine regions. And it's the last thing the Yarra's grape growers and winemakers needed to hear.

The outbreak was discovered earlier this month in a small section of a 32-hectare vineyard, situated to the north-east of Melbourne, in the southern state of Victoria. The vineyard is owned by one of the district's largest producers, Foster's, parent company of the Yarra Ridge, St Huberts and Coldstream Hills wineries.

The response has been swift: the affected vineyard has been quarantined and the Victorian Department of Primary Industries is conducting a survey into the extent of the outbreak in other Yarra vineyards.

But many in the region are understandably nervous, and with good reason: according to Yarra Valley Winegrowers Association spokesperson Anna Aldridge, the majority of the vineyards here are planted on their own roots'.

The timing of the discovery couldn't have been worse. Since late September, the Yarra (along with the rest of south-eastern Australia) has been bombarded by a series of black frosts and hailstorms, with crop losses reported to be as high as 90-100% in some vineyards.

And now the region is heading into what looks like being the driest summer ever recorded, with the bleached-blonde, tinder-dry countryside already resembling late February rather than early December, and the bushfire season well under way.