Smoke gets in your vines

Smoke gets in your vines

12 June 2007

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Victoria, Australia — After surviving drought and frosts, bushfires ruined this year’s vintage, reports BenCanaider.

”It´s not an easy decision to make; and it’s not an easy one to swallow,” says Graeme Ray. Ray has run Boggy Creek Vineyards in Myrrhee, in Victoria’s King Valley for 27 years. In 2007, he has not declared a vintage.

The bushfires of the last summer are to blame. All of his 45 hectares of grapes have been sold or left to the ground. Smoke from bushfires has tainted his grapes.

“Midway through December, after the Whitfield fires, we thought that we had a problem; that the smoke was going to heavily affect the grape skins and their flavour. Then, in January, when the Tatong fires came to within 200 metres of the vineyard, we knew the grapes were gone. There was just too much smoke.”

The Rays, who run a family affair at Myrrhee, made some trial ferments in January. Picking sangiovese at low Baume, they quickly realised something was wrong. “It was like a dirty ashtray,” says Ray. So they made an intelligent stand for integrity at the cost of any short-term fiscal goal. In 2007, for Boggy Creek, the grapes do not exist.

“How should I put it – a ‘big company’ bought them at low cost for bulk blending. We can’t afford to damage our integrity and what we stand for by releasing such wine. We’re about single-vineyard, hand-made wines; and if we lose that, we’ve lost everything.”

This is very much the story for the bushfire-ravaged twin regions of the King and Alpine valleys. Grapes in both regions – if they’d managed to survive long-term drought and spring’s frosts last year – now had to breathe in the smoke of eucalyptus-fuelled fires.

The Rays, like many winemakers and wine growers in the two regions, sent a lot of grapes off to the Australian Wine Research Institute. Using glycol levels in grapes, the AWRI has fashioned a theoretical smoke-taint indicator numbered from 1 to 12. Too much of Boggy Creek’s grapes were closer to 12 than 1. “It must be even harder for growers, however, who only sell grapes, and don’t value-add. At least we’ve got enough stock from the last couple of vintages to get us through,” says Ray.

The Boggy Creek resolve typifies the two regions’ general attitude. And this must be applauded. According to the King Valley Vignerons executive officer, Wendy Batey, most winemakers in her region have elected to abandon 2007 as a vintage year.

“A few pockets of the region were spared, and some parcels of grapes passed the testing we employed for smoke-affected grapes; and this was good news because those grapes were accepted by their contracted buyers.

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