It’s been a tough time for Australian wine producers recently, battling drought, fires, floods, or other severe weather conditions, sometimes all at once.

And now, more losses from the bushfire crisis have been revealed, with some producers in the Canberra wine region losing their whole 2020 vintage to smoke taint.

Canberra District Wine Industry Association released a statement yesterday as an update about the region’s vintages and how they’ve been impacted by the fires.

“The impact of smoke is varied across our district, initial smoke taint test reports indicate that each area within our district are receiving vastly different levels of smoke taint results, and as several wineries are still going through the smoke testing process, we still don’t have a clear picture of the level of damage to the whole district just yet,” it read.

“The decision to not harvest in 2020 has already been made by a number of individual wineries in consultation with their winemakers and reinforces their own and our region’s ethos of premium quality wines that represent the unique terroir that is Canberra District wines.”

One of the wineries that has made this difficult decision is Clonakilla Wines in Murrumbateman, as announced by their Chief Winemaker and CEO Tim Kirk this week.

“Analysis of ripening grapes from our estate vineyard in Murrumbateman and the vineyards of our longstanding grape suppliers in the Hilltops region around the town of Young has revealed unacceptable high levels of smoke taint across all varieties and all vineyard sites,” Kirk’s statement read.

“It is important to the Kirk family, to our growers and to the entire Clonakilla team that anyone who purchases our wine can have confidence that the Clonakilla label on a bottle if a guarantee of high quality.

“Having experienced a barrage of smoke from fires on every side this summer that is not a guarantee we can deliver from the 2020 vintage.”

Another Murrumbateman producer, Shaw Wines, has also made the decision to not have a 2020 vintage. Alike to Clonakilla, they made the decision because the level of smoke taint detected would impact the quality of the wine produced.

“We take our responsibility to lovers of Shaw Wines very seriously and we have taken steps to ensure we only produce the highest standards of quality and integrity in our wines,” Shaw Wines said in a statement.

Tony Battaglene, Chief Executive of Australian Grape and Wine, told National Liquor News that this commitment is evident in producers across the country that have made the heartbreaking decision to forgo harvest.

“Producers are choosing not to pick to preserve the quality of wine they sell and this is very important to note that wine quality in Australia will remain at its normal high standards despite the impact of smoke in a number of regions,” Battaglene said.

Angus Barnes, Executive Officer of New South Wales Wine, said 2020 will certainly go down as a challenging vintage for many producers due to smoke lingering over the land.

However, he also said: “We know more about smoke testing this year than ever before and the affect that smoke can have on vineyards.”

On a positive note, both Clonakilla Wines and Shaw Wines, as well as other impacted wineries in the region, will still have exceptional stock from previous vintages and their cellar doors will remain open and operational.

Kirk has emphasised that Clonakilla will not run out of wine and said: “The 2018 and 2019 vintages in particular delivered many wonderful wines which will find their way on to the market over the next 18 months.”

Shaw Wines said: “Despite the loss of our 2020 vintage, we still have lots of amazing wines to share. We have not altered our trading, which is still seven days per week.”

“We currently have 14 wines on tasting at cellar door – the medal haul just for these wines totals 104 – and we are very much looking forward to our 2018 and 2019 red vintages still to be released. The 2018 vintage in our view is shaping up to be a genuine rival to the great 2015 vintage.”

Shaw Wines also hoped neighbouring winemakers could be able to make a different decision, due to the different levels and impacts of smoke across the large geographical area that the wine region encompasses.

But producers who do lose part or all of their vintage to smoke taint are looking on the bright side, having not lost vines to the flames themselves. As Battaglene said: “Smoke only impacts on a single vintage, so there will be no flow on impacts.”

In the meantime though, winemakers need our support to get through a tough year. The best ways you can help bushfire affected wineries are through buying their wines and visiting their cellar doors.

Brydie Allen

Brydie Allen is the Editor of National Liquor News. She has been with Food and Beverage Media since 2019, when she joined the company as a journalist across National Liquor News, Bars & Clubs, The...

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