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Smoke casts doubt over Yarra vintage

Published:  19 February, 2009

The entire 2009 vintage in Australia's Yarra Valley could be contaminated by smoke from the bushfires, a grower in the region has warned.

James Cuthbertson, whose Grapeshot business operates four vineyards in Upper Goulburn, said he was writing off A$1 million worth of fruit. He said nearby vineyards owned by Coldstream Hills, De Bortoli and Domaine Chandon could face similar problems.

"It's a complete disaster," Cuthbertson told The Australian newspaper. "It makes the wine taste like a pub ashtray. Two days of smoke is enough to do it." He added that "even though there are people thinking they'll be right, I don't think they will be".

The Australian & and Brandy Corporation said this week that "the full impact and consequences" of the bushfires "are not yet known and will take some time to be completely understood".

It added: "Impacts range from the tragic loss of human life through to property damage, vineyard damage, smoke taint, and heat stress. However, due to the unpredictable nature of bushfires, the impacts have been highly variable by region and individual enterprises.

"The fires have centred on regional Victoria and have directly threatened the wine producing areas of Beechworth, Bendigo, Gippsland, Heathcote, and the Yarra Valley. A full assessment of the impact on the wine sector will not be made for some weeks, but the majority of wineries in Victoria are operating normally with grapes being crushed.

 "From information to hand so far, the Yarra Valley Wine Growers Association estimates that 80 ha (200 acres) of vineyards have been damaged or destroyed. There will be no crops harvested from these vineyards in 2009.

"Given that the area under vines in the Valley is about 3,000 ha, 80 ha represents about 3% of the planted vineyard area. The impact on the total grape crop in 2009 will therefore not be large.

"Grape intake for the 2009 vintage is proceeding and consumers can still expect good quality wines from the Yarra Valley vintage."