Vineyard loses most of crop in fire on harvest day

A vineyard in New South Wales lost most of its 2019 crop after bush fires ripped through the vines just hours before the harvest was due to take place.

Image: Topper’s Mountain Wines, Facebook.

As reported by ABC, Topper’s Mountain Wines suffered devastating losses as it geared up to harvest this year’s grapes.

The Tingha Plateau fire, which began on 10 February and was believed to have been caused by a lightning strike, first struck the vineyard’s southerly boundary on 13 February, after strong southerly winds blew drifting embers into the vines.

Speaking to ABC, the owner of Topper’s Mountain Wines, Mark Kirkby, said: “This wall of fire arrived on our southern boundary. Not long after that, it started spotting – that’s when our priorities changed pretty dramatically.

“It all happened in just a few minutes. Initially I was sitting in a chair watching the show – it was pretty impressive.

“And then when it finally got here, I thought bloody hell, this is getting a bit serious.

“The flames were 30 metres high. It was hellish.”

Of the grapes still on the vines, over 70% of the crop was destroyed in the flames with the winery unsure whether the remaining 30% can be used due to smoke taint.

“We couldn’t get from one row to the next quickly enough to slow it down,” Kirkby added. “We’ve probably lost somewhere in the region of AU$500,000. That’s assuming none of the vines have been killed, which would be the worst outcome.”

The winery posted on social media yesterday stating its Sauvignon Blanc grapes planted on the hill had escaped the blaze, having been picked two weeks ago.

On Saturday, it also picked some white grapes from the least affected parts of the vineyard and is planning to ferment the juice and see if smoke taint is present.

Kirkby planted his vineyard between 1998 and 2002, with his wife, Stephanie and three daughters.

The vineyard is planted with grapes including Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Petit Manseng. Topper’s was also due to release a wine from a variety said to be an “Australian first” but sadly the grapes were destroyed in the fire.

After a week-long battle, firefighters eventually extinguished the Tingha Plateau on Monday (18 February).

According to preliminary figures, it burnt more than 23,400 hectares of land, destroyed 13 houses and 44 outbuildings and damaged another six houses and 13 outbuildings. No fatalities have been reported.

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