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Rising from the Ashes

Several months on from Australia’s massive bush fires, we examine the wines (and current spirits) of folk in one badly hit area.

All-consuming as it has become, corona is not the only disaster to hit the world in recent months.

Australia’s so-called Black Summer of bush fires burnt 46 million acres of land claiming homes, lives and livelihoods in their path.

Putting that in context, the entire land mass of England is only 32 million acres.

Despite the picture above (courtesy of Andre Castelluci/Wine Australia) showing how they should look, the vines in Adelaide Hills in South Australia were particularly hard hit by the fires. Equally though Hunter Valley and Canberra were badly affected by smoke damage in the run-up to their own harvest time.

All in all, around 4% of Australia’s average national tonnage will have been lost by a combination of fire and smoke damage.

This came at an especially bad time as several years of drought had made hard work of agriculture in general – and wine production in particular.

For example, the Barossa Valley received only 11mm of rainfall over the first four months of 2019.

There is brighter side though

However, disaster and difficulty often bring out the most positive aspects of human nature.

For example, when Tim Kirk of Clonakilla (wines that are distributed in the UK through Liberty Wines incidentally) announced in February that the bushfires meant he would be unable to make any wine this year – help was quickly forthcoming.

Louisa Rose at Yalumba has given Tim some of their Viognier and Shiraz fruit from Eden Valley, and Tom Carson at Yabby Lake Vineyard has supplied Pinot Noir from Mornington Peninsula.

Vines fight back too

On another positive note, vines are surprisingly resilient with many of those burnt already showing new growth and some could be back to full crops in three or so years.

David Bowley

Heartbreakingly, the bushfire tore through 95% of David Bowley’s Vinteloper vineyard and the farmhouse in Adelaide Hills leaving the type of massive damage that this Instagram picture illustrates more powerfully that mere words ever can.

However, less than six month later, green shoots have already been spotted on at least 40% of the fire ravaged vines.

Here is wine they made earlier

For the attitude behind the Vinteloper project take a look at the “About Us” page on their website and for an example of their distinctive wines look at 2017 Vinteloper Pinot Noir (£33.15 at www.winebuyers.com and 13.5% abv).

Even for pinot noir this has a real lightness of colour but the aromatic cherry and raspberry fruit comes through decisively and is very ably supported by lively, lingering acidity, suggestions of clove and a savoury backdrop that fits somewhere between liquorice and truffle influences.  

Moving to another producer

Elsewhere in the Adelaide Hills, 90% of Henschke’s Lenswood Vineyard was burnt but new shoots are emerging there too and they hope to have harvested a little fruit by this time next year.   

Let’s hope that this setback does not affect their wine too much because I greatly enjoyed the stardust quality and stunning intensity of their 2017 Henschke Giles Pinot Noir (£32.50 at www.mrwheelerwine.com) which has beautiful, fleshy raspberry and red currant fruit, vibrant acidity and herbal and cinnamon centred depth.

… and yet a third

Further east, some Petaluma Wine vineyards were destroyed but, mercifully, firefighters saved their winery and cellar door facilities. However, individual small batch fermentation had to be used in respect of some Adelaide Hills parcels to ensure that no smoke tainted fruit was processed.

I thought of that estate and its challenges as I sampled one of their other (earlier) wines.

Dark and aromatic, 2012 Petaluma Coonawarra Cabernet Merlot (14.5% abv) is still maturing yet already brings us textured dark plum, loganberry and blackberry fruit with good acidity, firm (but not intrusive) tannin, suggestions of cocoa, vanilla and cinnamon with just a whiff of eucalyptus.

This vintage is pretty well sold through in the UK but www.philglas-swiggot.com do have the 2015 vintage which many folk also rate highly.

So, to sum up

These wines and these stories go beyond reflecting the diversity and continuing “premiumisation” of Australian wine to underline the skill and generosity of the people that make them – and (as this video illustrates) their sheer determination to press on come what may.

All that is something to which I cheerfully (and admiringly) raise a glass.       

Tune in again on Monday for a look at a new promotion starting next week and a couple of Top Tips – a great value everyday red and a delightfully rounded pinot gris.

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