Margaret river wine growers worried their grapes will be tainted by prescribed burning

Margaret river wine growers worried their grapes will be tainted by prescribed burning

22 March 2017

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Australia — A group of Margaret River wineries say their grapes could be tainted by smoke from prescribed burning that could be carried out before harvest is finished.

Authorities say the burning needs to begin as soon as possible to protect the Margaret River town site from bushfires.

The unseasonal heavy rain in recent weeks has meant the soil is damp enough to carry out the prescribed burning earlier than usual, creating the clash.

Viticulturist John Standish said the mild summer had delayed the grape season, with harvesting beginning later than usual across much of the region.

He said carrying out prescribed burning in the area could damage his crop.

“In areas where fruit is close to ripening, like it is here, it’s just too risky to be starting to light fire,” Mr Standish said.

“We really don’t know which way the wind’s going to go or what’s going to happen next.”

Experts say it can take as little as half an hour of exposure to smoke to taint the grapes, potentially imparting a smoky, ashtray flavour into the wine.

Northcliffe bushfire tainted previous harvest

Mr Standish said grapes at his vineyard were tainted by smoke from the massive Northcliffe bushfire two years ago and several grape varieties had to be blended to disguise it.

In light of the damage from that fire which was about 150 kilometres away, Mr Standish said he had real concerns about burning in nearby bushland.

The Department of Parks and Wildlife said the thick forest at Bramley National Park neighbouring the Margaret River town site had not been burnt in 10 years.

Blackwood District Fire Coordinator Ed Hatherley said those fuel loads needed to be targeted this time of year.

“It’s important to get these burns done in autumn, that way it facilitates the follow up winter rains to extinguish the burns completely when they’re so close to town,” Mr Hatherley said.

“It’s been an unusual summer — it’s been very mild and a cool and damp summer.

“So interestingly the seasonality has really affected the late harvest of the wine grapes and that’s also brought forward our autumn program into consideration.”

Further rain on Tuesday night delayed the opportunity for burning to begin for another week or so.

Growers hope they will be able to harvest as many grapes as possible before then.

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