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Bushfire Smoke Damages Australian Wine Industry

FILE - A general view of Tomich Winery following a bushfire in Dec. 2019, in Adelaide Hills, Australia, Jan. 18, 2020.

Bushfires in Australia have ruined crops in parts of the country’s wine making areas. The full extent of the damage is still being calculated, but some grape growers have lost their entire harvest to so-called "smoke taint."

The cost of Australia’s bushfire disaster continues to climb. Thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed, and lives and livelihoods have been lost.

The nation’s multi-million dollar wine industry has been badly hit. Vineyards have been damaged in three Australian states; New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

Some have been directly affected by the fires, while others have been smothered by a smoky haze.

If grapes are exposed to smoke towards the end of the growing season, they can absorb compounds from burnt trees that give wine an unpleasant taste, making it unsaleable. This has led to many grapes being left unpicked.

Stuart Hordern is a senior winemaker with Brokenwood Wines in the New South Wales Hunter Valley.

"The largest impact from these smoke events is certainly on the growers," he said. "The fruit crop each year is their income for the year and they are heavily affected by it. There are growers that we have had to walk away from, there are growers that we have taken a significantly lower amount of fruit from and that really impacts on their livelihood, and we need to make sure that those guys get through the year.”

The unprecedented bushfire season follows the impact of a long drought in many wine producing areas in Australia, which had already reduced the size of the crop. Adding to the financial costs is a fall in the number of tourists visiting vineyards because of the fires.

There is also the realization that climate change will bring more frequent and more intense bushfires, and that the wine industry will inevitably be affected by more smoke in the years ahead.

Australian wine exports are worth about $1.86 billion. The three biggest markets are China, the United States and Great Britain.