“We’ll bounce back. That’s what we do.” That was also the clear message driven home at an emotional press conference at today’s Wine Australia annual trade tasting in London as senior figures from the generic body, including marketing chief, Stuart Barclay, and head of the UK and Europe, Laura Jewell MW, explained the harsh reality of the devastating impact the wild bush fires have had on some areas of the Australian wine community. Thankfully the overall damage has been limited to some areas, mainly in the Adelaide Hills, but where the fires have struck the impact on wineries and the surrounding communities has been total. Richard Siddle reports.
There was an understandable shadow over today’s Wine Australia trade tasting in London as the UK trade heard first hand just how damaging and devastating the recent bush fires have been.
There is so much talk of emotion and passion in the wine industry that it often gets lost and loses its real meaning in the general noise there is around what’s it like to live your life as a winemaker.
That was not the case at today’s Wine Australia trade tasting in London. The emotions on show were so real they were genuinely moving as it fell to Wine Australia’s Stuart Barclay, general manager for marketing and Laura Jewell MW, director for the UK and Europe, to explain just what impact there has been in Australia from the devastating bush fires that have swept across the country in recent weeks.
It will take some time to count up the real human cost from this disaster, but its impact was very real and open to see at today’s event as Barclay struggled to pass on the news about what has happened in his home country.
He was certainly able to lay out the hard, raw facts to the UK trade and media with top line details on how many wineries, winemakers and vineyards have been affected by what he called the “devastating and horrific fires”.
Too early to say
It is also clearly too early to give a comprehensive account, but Barclay was able to confirm that 1,500 hectares of vineyards had been caught up in the fires, with Adelaide Hills by far the worst affected region, accounting for 648 of those hectares. Within that there had been either “complete or partial devastation” of the vines, with the knock-on effect that has had on individual winemakers, growers, their families and all the supporting industries related to the wine sector in those local communities.
It’s their livelihoods and long term effect on the local eco system and animal population that will take some to recover and fully understand, said Barclay. It’s why it’s so important the trade continues to rally around and support those communities, he stressed, now and in the future so that they can “rebuild their lives”.
Peter Bentley of Pikes & Joyce in Adelaide Hills said “it was not just the damage to the wineries that was the issue here”, but the impact on all the communities, and service providers that supply them. “It also shows just how important wineries are in these regions and how many people’s livelihoods rely on them.”
But he spoke for the industry as a whole when he added: “We’ll bounce back. That’s what we do.”
Barclay was also quick to commend the “heart warming” and “amazing” help and support the Australian wine community has already received by the large number of fundraising efforts and events that have taken place in the UK in recent weeks. All of which has hugely appreciated, he stressed.
Australia as a whole has received some A$500m from around the world and the government has announced a minimum A$2bn relief fund to help rebuild the affected areas, which has seen the loss of over 2,000 houses.
If there is any good news to come out of this natural disaster it’s the fact the country’s wine industry as a whole has been “fortunate” in just how much damage there has been, with only 1% of the country’s 150,000 hectares of wines affected. The key, though, said Barclay is that those who have been hit have suffered “severe” damage and it’s those people that we need to continue to help and support.
But he also wanted to get the message across that “Australia is still very much open for business”. Even the worst affected areas including the Adelaide Hills.
The reaction there has been within Australia and around the world also shows what a close-knit community the wine sector is at these times.
One Australian winemaker told today’s press conference he had been overwhelmed by the level of support he has received. A request, for example, to find two people to help him put back some posts into the ground, saw some 150 people turn up to the winery over a weekend. All keen to help in any way they could, 95% of whom had no connection to the winery, or had bought any of its wine.
The recovery effort is already well underway and Australia is well placed to put in measures and offer the right kind of advice to affected winemakers thanks to the years of research and analysis that has gone into analysing the impact of fires on vineyards, grapes and future vintages, explained Barclay. Sharing as much of that best practice advice to winemakers is crucial at this time, he explained. “Fires are also part of the landscape of the country.”
Special workshops are being held in the affected areas to help growers and winemakers understand what best practices they should now be following to limit any damage going into the 2020 harvest. Particularly around testing, tasting and measuring grapes for compounds that might impact on their flavour.
Jewell said the long term impact is likely to be limited when it comes to issues such as smoke taint as research has shown how well vines can recover and almost “clean” themselves from one harvest to the next. So whilst the Australian industry will have to “wait and see” what sort of smoke taint issues there might be in certain regions for the 2020 vintage, there should not be any lasting damage going into next year, she added.
- To find out more information about the fires, their impact and how you can support the Australian wine community through fund raising activity around the world then go to www.wineaustralia.com/fire-recovery. If you are putting on a fundraising event and would like to publicise it then contact firstname.lastname@example.org.