A year after many New South Wales winegrowers lost their crops to smoke taint, they are now warning hazard reduction burns, which should protect them, could pose a new threat.

Key points:

  • NSW Wine warns burns designed to prevent disastrous bushfires could affect wine
  • Researchers say there’s little to no value in smoke-affected grapes
  • Smoke taint cost the wine industry about $40 million after the 2019-20 bushfires

The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) called the just-ended bushfire danger period the “quietest fire season in a decade”.

La Niña conditions provided ideal conditions for prescribed burns.

Tom Ward, the president of the Orange Vigneron’s Association, was one of hundreds to lose his vintage to smoke taint after the devastating fires of last summer.

Smoke lingered in the air of the high-altitude wine region for almost 60 days.

It has sparked concern in the industry that crops are in danger of being tainted by smoke, even during a mild bushfire season.

He said there was a risk that hazard reduction burns on properties or in State and National Parks near vineyards could affect grapes.

“If we don’t have a product then we don’t have a livelihood,” Mr Ward said.

A vineyard sits among smoke during February fires.

A vineyard hit by smoke taint from the bushfires in February 2020.(

Supplied: Lloyd Douglas

)

Stakeholders should work in unison: grower

The RFS hand out fire permits during the bushfire danger period, which runs from October to March.

That season, which ended yesterday, coincided with the grape harvest.

NSW Wine executive officer Angus Barnes said fire authorities made the final call on hazard reduction burns, and they must take into account how smoke could impact vineyards.

“It would be unrealistic to say that we want there to be no hazard reduction burns across the summer period.”

The goal, he said, was for all players; State and National Parks, farmers, wine producers, and the RFS, to work in unison.

“If there is a particular incident where we think it would be opportune to delay the burn for a period of days, or weeks, then we would ask that.”

NSW RFS Assistant Commissioner Ben Millington said there was a finite period when hazard reduction burns could take place.

Filling the knowledge gap

The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) warned smoke taint was the biggest environmental risk the sector faced.

AWRI’s Con Simos said no matter what type of fire generated the grapes could be affected.

Vigneron holds grapes in hand among vines

Red grapes almost ready for harvest at Swinging Bridge in Orange, NSW.(

ABC Central West: Xanthe Gregory

)

“Whether it’s from a natural fire, or controlled burn, a double burn or even a grass fire the risk to vineyards is the same,” he said.

“Difficult decisions need to be made.”

Planning for the future

NSW Wine and the RFS both agreed there must be open communication to reduce the impacts of future bushfires on both the industry and the state.

Assistant Commissioner Millington said a recent “positive discussion” with NSW Wine showed both parties had a mutual understanding.

“It’s in our best interest to work with the winegrowers to ensure that they don’t have their grapes affected,” he said.

“But we need to ensure that some of those fuel loads are reduced and communities are protected.”

Winegrowers fear fire prevention could harm crops
Source:
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