SCORCHING temperatures are starting to wreak havoc on Rutherglen winemakers at a crucial time.
Fred Morris, vineyard manager at Stanton and Killeen, said an abnormally hot December followed by January’s heatwave was a recipe for disaster for vineyards.
“The vineyards are hot and thirsty which is devastating for them,” Mr Morris said.
“Obviously you expect hot weather at this time of year.
“What’s making it most difficult is we haven’t had significant rain in this area that would do anything for a grapevine for nearly two years.
“The ground is bone dry and there is even big trees that are dying around the place.
“They have obviously seen a few droughts in their time but this one has brought them unstuck.
“We had an unusually hot December and now we are in our second month of hot weather, there’s no rain and it’s a recipe for disaster.”
Mr Morris said 2003 and 2007 proved to be tough for winemakers but this year was shaping as the worst in at least two decades.
“2003 was tough and so was 2007 but I think this year could end up being worse,” he said.
“The difference is this year we didn’t get frosted.
“In 2003 and 2007 we didn’t get that far into the growing season before we lost our crop anyway and then it was just a matter of keeping the vines alive.
“This year, despite the drought we didn’t get frosted, which is unusual because a frost normally occurs before a drought.
“So this is new territory for me in that we have drought conditions without the frost and still have a full crop out there.”
While temperatures in the 30-34 degree range are the optimum for growing grapes, anything above 35 degrees, grape vines shut down, going into survival mode.
To combat that, Mr Morris and other growers are watering vineyards more.
“We are actually watering around the clock,” he said.
“At the moment, just through evaporation we are losing about 8mm of rain equivalent a day.
“To compensate for that involves an enormous amount of irrigation to stay ahead so when we get some cool weather the vines can recover.
“They have some coping mechanisms, they can turn their leaves and close their stomata and shut-down.
“But if they run out of ground water they will eventually drop their leaves and we lose the crop.”
Wine maker Damien Cofield, of Cofield Wines Wahgunyah, said he was using record amounts of water to preserve his vineyard.
“We have never watered as much as we have this year and that started back in November,” Mr Cofield said.
“It’s a constant battle trying to keep on top of it.
“Most years you get a couple of days of 40 degrees and then it drops back.
“But the amount of days we have had over 40 this year is unprecedented for me and I can’t remember anything like this happening before.”
Mr Cofield said he also refused to freight existing wine once the temperature exceeded 40 degrees.
“That’s another precaution I take, not freighting wine in stinking heat,” he said.
“We deliver the wines ourselves at this time of year so I can guarantee it arriving to our customers in good nick.
“We also have a lot more canopy on the western side of our vineyard for protection when the sun is at its harshest.”
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