Devastation in the Adelaide Hills will be felt for years

06 January, 2020 by Deborah Jackson

Prue Henschke assesses the damage to the Lenswood vineyard

Adelaide Hills winemakers and producers are working together to assess the damage caused by the devastating Cudlee Creek fire that tore through the region just before Christmas.

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Around one-third of the Adelaide Hills’ vineyards stood in the path of the fire including more than 60 grape growers and producers, many of which are small family businesses that are now dealing with the shock of having lost everything.

Many of the grape growers that have been affected have no public profile, no brand to get behind and no wine to sell. Some of these family businesses are considering their futures as destroyed vineyards can take years to regenerate.

The devastation is also great for many apple, pear and cherry growers as well as dairy and beef farmers in the Adelaide Hills.

Kerry Treuel, Executive Officer of Adelaide Hills Wine Region told TheShout that the region is likely to be feeling the effects of this disaster for many years to come.

“Broadly we know that approximately 30 per cent of the region’s vineyards (1100 – 1200ha) were in the fire area but the damage to all of these is yet to determined.

“Unfortunately, some vineyards are completely gone but there are other areas where vines are still intact with no fire damage. We are working closely with The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI), Vinehealth Australia and industry experts to understand the damage and salvage as much as possible.”

Although damages are still being assessed, with more than 60 grape growers and producers having been affected by fire, there is no doubt that the region is going to be impacted by grape shortages for vintage 2020.

“The flow on effect of a disaster like this will be felt by many and for years to come,” said Treuel.

Tony Battaglene, Chief Executive of Australian Grape and Wine, told TheShout that there are also concerns regarding infrastructure damage, which may hinder recovery times.

“It’s not just the vines that have been damaged, it’s the trellising, the posts and the irrigation systems, which is the big one that people are talking about,” he said.

“The vines should recover pretty quickly if we can get the irrigation back on to them, but that is one of the many problems because the irrigation systems have been damaged.”

Stephen Henschke, Winemaker and Director at Henschke, said that the fire completely tore through their Lenswood vineyard, but he said that after an initial assessment conducted today, there is hope that some of the less badly burned vines might be saved.

“The Cudlee Creek fire started on Friday 20th November. Around 1,100ha of vineyard in the northern part of the Adelaide Hills Wine Region was burnt (around 30 per cent), including our Lenswood vineyard.

“The fire destroyed both of our sheds, all of our machinery and equipment and also damaged our vineyards, trellis and irrigation infrastructure. This vineyard usually provides 25 per cent of our grape production but for 2020, this contribution will be zero. Fortunately, the Innes Pinot Gris vineyard at Littlehampton was untouched by the fire.

“After an initial assessment of the damage, the irrigation is being re-established so we can stimulate the less badly scorched vines into regrowth over the next 3-5 weeks. We expect some vines will recover this season but others we will have to wait until next spring before we know the true extent of the damage. The recovery will be slow and we can only hope that the vineyard will be back in production over the next few years.

“There have been many ups and downs over Henschke’s 150 years. This is another chapter that we will have to be strong and resilient enough to overcome. Prue and her team at Lenswood, led by our vineyard manager Craig Markby, have spent many years building up this beautiful cool-climate vineyard and they are resolute in bringing it back to its former glory.”

Prue Henschke, Viticulturist and Co-Director at Henschke, told TheShout that new growth is already beginning to peek through the badly burned vines and that the Adelaide Hills community has rallied together to rebuild and prepare for the future.

“We are starting to see tiny young shoots emerge in our Lenswood vineyard, even though the vines have been badly burnt. Many Adelaide Hills growers who have been affected are starting to repair and re-establish dripper line for irrigation. We hope that the vines may regrow in the next year or two. We will only know in time. The Adelaide Hills wine community is gathering together to share knowledge to help with recovery and we are planning to rebuild infrastructure so that we are better prepared for the future.”

Nicole Roberts, Global Marketing and Sales Manager at Bird in Hand, told TheShout that businesses are going to be put under immense financial pressure following this disaster.

“Off the back of a low yielding 2019 vintage due to frost and wind damage at flowering, many Adelaide Hills growers and wineries are now looking at another very low yielding 2020 vintage due to the bush fires. This will put many producers under serious financial pressure.

“At Bird in Hand we have suffered damage to some of our estate vines and time will tell the extent of this however we are hopeful that many vines will reshoot and will return to production for vintage 2021.

“Our heart is a little broken for all those affected in the Adelaide Hills and on Kangaroo Island where there is even wider spread destruction, but we will together rebuild. The community spirit here among all South Australians is incredible but we are also feeling terribly for everyone in NSW and Victoria where the threat is still very real.

“The best support we can ask for across our entire region is for consumers to buy Adelaide Hills produce and wines.”

To help local growers and producers and fund recovery efforts, the Adelaide Hills Wine Region has set up a Fire Appeal and is now accepting donations through it’s GoFundMe page.