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TAS Country : March 8th 2012
Friday, March 9, 2012 Tasmanian Country 13 News Viticulture In search of a grape escape from the VINE Graeme Phillips DOWN BUT NOT OUT: Meadowbank Estate winemaker Gerald Ellis can smile this week as he launches his new 2010 Ticklebelly Pinot. Mr Ellis says he has received tremendous support since the fire. Picture: RICHARD JUPE TAINTED LOVE: Smoke from the Derwent Valley bushfires rises above the Meadowbank Estate vineyard. Picture: SAM ROSEWARNE SMOKE from the recent bushfire that so tragically affected Meadowbank Es- tate seems to have had little, if any, effect on fruit quality of vineyards downwind in the Derwent Valley. Wine Tasmania chief executive Sheralee Davies says the fire came at the worst time because some vineyards had just started harvesting, but the possibility of the grapes being affected by smoke taint was minimal since strong winds caused the smoke cover to rise and disperse quite quickly. After the bushfires in northeast Victoria and southern NSW in 2003, investigations by the Australian Wine Research Institute conclusively showed that ''tainting of grapes and wine by bushfire smoke can occur and potentially have a major economic impact''. While it was evident that few vineyards had actually been damaged by the 2003 fires, spoilage caused by smoke taint was found to be wide- spread, with many affected grapes, wines and especially sparkling base wines consequently deemed to be ''unfit for purpose''. Similar problems were experienced in California in 2010 and in British Columbia in 2003 where it was shown that exposure to smoke affected the chemical composition and sensory characteristics of the wines. Sub- sequent research by the AWRI suggests that grapes' uptake of the damaging chemicals in smoke depends on the density and duration of the smoke cover; that repeated exposure during the growing season has a cumulative effect; and that uptake increases as the fruit ripens, with the most susceptible period being immediately prior to harvest. Research has also shown that while there is little or no carry-over effect on the grapes and wine in the following year, smoke exposure does have a significant negative effect on sub- sequent vine growth and cropping capacity. The estimated $300 million loss to the industry due to smoke taint from the Victorian bushfires in 2007 and 2009 prompted the Victorian Government to last year establish a Centre for Exper- tise in Smoke Taint Research at Mildura under DPI senior research scientist, Davinder Singh. Dr Singh is reported by the Victorian DPI as saying that the problem of smoke taint was not a one-off. ''The problem is not going away. With climate variability this problem will probably be exacerbated because we're going to have 45 per cent more days where our chance of bush- fires is very high,'' Dr Singh said. ''We're also trying to find out what's in the smoke, what gets into the grapes and what goes into the wine.'' Preliminary research results indicate that the severity of smoke taint only becomes apparent as the grapes are processed into wine and that its taste becomes more marked as the wine ages. Trials to correct or remove smoke taint from the wine itself, including the use of reverse os- mosis, have to date apparently been largely unsuccessful. Smoke from controlled burns and logging operations in Tas- mania has the same damaging potential as that from bushfires and is the reason Wine Tasmania has effective protocols in place with Forestry Tasmania and is working closely with Parks and Wildlife and a number of commer- cial operators on this issue. Wine Tasmania's Sheralee Davies says it is also important to raise the general awareness of the public and landowners to the potential effects of smoke on nearby vineyards. She says the best solution is to delay burn-offs until after May when the year's grape harvest is finished. In much the same way, it is the vine's demonstrated capacity to take up and transport air-borne pollutants into wine that is of concern to many Tamar Valley grape growers about Gunns' plan- ned pulp mill. The Mildura centre's research project is due for completion in 2015, by which time the whole science of smoke taint, its possible remedies and, by extrapolation, the problem of air pollution in vineyards generally, will hope- fully become clearer. Support welcomed MEADOWBANK vineyard owner Gerald Ellis has been counting the losses since the fires went through the prop- erty, destroying 50km of fences, irrigation systems, livestock and rendering his grape crop unusable because of smoke damage. ''We've had tremendous support, particularly with people donating feed for our livestock,'' Mr Ellis said. ''And we've had a huge number of calls from people offering labour for a fencing program; there's barely a fence left stand- ing.'' He hopes to save most of his vines for next season. ''I've contacted some mainland wineries that were fire-damaged in 2009,'' Mr Ellis said. ''I've had tremendous support from them on recuperating the vineyard after the fire.''
February 23rd 2012
March 15th 2012