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Record Floods Hit Australian Vineyards

Vineyards and wineries are underwater and crops lost as northern Victoria weathers severe flooding

Tyson Stelzer
Posted: January 20, 2011

Australia’s record floods have spread to one of the nation’s leading wine regions. Authorities have told 9,000 residents of the state of Victoria to evacuate dozens of towns as floods threaten one quarter of the state. Growers estimate that about 20 percent of the area’s wine grape crop has been destroyed by heavy rain and flooding. With harvest just weeks away, winemakers across southeastern Australia are expressing widespread concern over possible fungal diseases triggered by the extreme summer rainfall.

Less than one week after La Niña-triggered floods swept through Queensland, inundating 17,000 homes, record rainfall in Victoria spawned its own floodwaters. The winegrowing regions of Grampians, Great Western and Pyrenees in the western part of the state were hardest hit.

Workers had put up sand bags at Mount Avoca winery in the Pyrenees when the water broke the banks of a dam. “We have lost all of our Cabernet and about half of the rest of the vineyard,” said director Matthew Barry. He feared that disease in the sodden vineyard would wipe out most of what the flood left behind. Barry didn’t let the rising waters dampen his sense of humor. “We found an unlucky 9-pound yellow belly [fish] lost in one of our flooded paddocks. Lunch was caught and the barbecue was fired up!”

In Great Western, not considered to be a flood-prone region, Best’s Wines’ Concongella Vineyard had 8 inches of rainfall in 48 hours and one meter of floodwater around its vines. The historic Seppelts Winery became the evacuation point for local residents as floodwaters lapped the lower reaches of its St. Peter’s vineyard.

Throughout southeastern Australia, downy and powdery mildew are already threatening to become the primary concerns this vintage. In the Clare Valley in South Australia, locals estimate that more than 10 percent of the region’s crop has already been affected by these fungal diseases. As floodwaters from both the Victorian and Queensland floods make their way toward the river systems of the Riverina and Riverland, Australia’s largest wine regions, there are widespread fears of outbreaks of botrytis.

Image Courtesy of Best's Wines

Floodwaters are getting higher in Seppelts Winery's St. Peter's Vineyard.

“Australia's grapegrowers are being challenged big time at the moment due to the wet and humid conditions, and it will take a considerable effort to ensure that grapes are delivered ripe and disease-free to wineries,” said Alister Purbrick, CEO and head winemaker at Tahbilk in the central Victorian region of Nagambie. “I suspect that disease will cut the vintage intake by a fairly large number.” Precisely how much is very much in the hands of the weather over the coming months, but some estimate a national crop of less than 1.4 million metric tons (about 1.54 million U.S. tons), suggesting a reversal of Australia’s wine glut this vintage.

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