Grape growers counting cost of the heat

Wine grape growers across Victoria and southern NSW say early estimates of the damage caused by last week’s scorching heatwave suggest a loss of 5 to 10 per cent of harvests — but it may have been worse.

Heading into the almost week-long stretch of days over 40 degrees, growers had feared significant losses with the heatwave threatening fruit sunburn and damage to taste.

In northern Victoria, Murray Valley Winegrowers chief executive Mark McKenzie said the damage to vineyards wouldn’t be known for a few days.

“We’ve already had some sporadic reports of very severe burn on foliage and fruit on some blocks where either the water has been restricted or was not able to be kept up to the vines at sufficient volumes,” he said.

In southern NSW, industry development officer at the Riverina Wine Grapes Marketing Board, Kristy Bartrop, said the region’s grape haul would probably be down about 30,000 tonnes, or about 10 per cent, on the average harvest.

She said the heat loss followed much larger damage from a black frost in October, which had cut production by about 100,000 tonnes of grapes or one-third of the region’s average annual output.

Yarra Valley Wine Growers’ Association chief executive Richard Howden said in his region growers generally survived the week relatively unscathed due to the dams being full for irrigation and the area’s vineyards maintaining good canopy cover.