North East vignerons are making difficult decisions about smoke-affected grapes and what can be salvaged for this year's vintage.
The extent of smoke taint is varied but widespread across the Alpine Valleys, Rutherglen, Beechworth and King Valley regions, with some crops being written off.
Small-scale fermentations are being done by Charles Sturt University's National Wine and Grape Industry Centre at the Wangaratta Regional Study Centre.
Director Leigh Schmidtke said the impact of smoke was "highly variable across varieties and locations".
"Certainly King Valley, Rutherglen, Beechworth and Myrtleford areas all have grapes coming in to our facility," he said.
"The last time I checked there was around 35 to 40 ferments taking place and that has probably increased.
"Vignerons can have their grapes fermented in a small batch, of about two kilograms, and take the wine from that fermentation and assess it from a sensorial perspective to try and get a bit of a feel for the extent of smoke taint.
"There's a lot of money attached to harvest and processing, so if the grape is not going to be of acceptable quality for wine, unfortunately there's not much point trying to put more money into it."
The testing being done by NWGIC is amid a backlog of samples awaiting to be tested at laboratories in Melbourne and Adelaide.
Bucket ferments are being done at Rutherglen's Pfeiffer Wines, and senior winemaker Chris Pfeiffer said it was "batch-by-batch decision-making".
"Some areas are worse-affected than others and there are a number of wineries who aren't processing this year because of it," he said.
"We're processing. I would anticipate 50 per cent of what we normally take [for wine-making] is potentially not suitable.
"It is different for every variety, we also have fruit from quite a diverse range of sites too.
"The impact of this will be felt more broadly over the next two to three years.
"The white wines from this vintage you would normally start to see coming out at the end of this year, they may be impacted."
Mr Pfeiffer agreed the impact of smoke taint was widespread and said it would be on par with the 2003 fires.
"The only place I've not heard about is Glenrowan; I haven't heard any results out of there," he said.
"There's no magic bullet ... we've been working on this for 17 years."
Porepunkah winemaker Mark Holm said at Ringer Reef Winery, things weren't looking good for this year's vintage.
"All our wines with the exception of one come from grapes grown on this property," he said.
"We're going to make a couple different wines to see what extent of smoke taint there is, and through that we're hoping to come up with our own internal procedure so we can be a lot more confident in the future.
"Reds are certainly finished."
Red wines are more affected than white wines as the grape skins are left on longer, and varieties picked earlier may have been less affected.
Australian Wine Research Institute has found up to 20 per cent of people can't taste smoke flavours in wine, but the majority of wine-drinkers will pick up undesirable characteristics in the end product.
Mitigation measures range from hand-picking to whole bunch pressing, and there is no carry-over of smoke taint from one season to the next.
Winemakers of Rutherglen executive officer Annalee Nolan said winemakers had come together early to share strategies.
"Extensive testing and workshops have been done around the region," she said.
"Each of the varietals are picked at different times and are affected in different ways.
"Thickness of skin, how long the grapes have been on the vine, if they are at high or low points at the winery all come into play ... it's not possible to make a blanket decision, unless you're in extreme circumstances.
"I'm only aware of a small number who have decided not to harvest.
"There's been a great collaboration between winemakers - they've been really willing to share results."
Mr Pfeiffer said the North East wine industry was "in this together".
"There will be good wines to come out of this vintage, I'm sure," he said.
"Our total vintage is not a write-off, for some people they have made the decision not to pick, which is a very difficult decision considering all your costs have already been spent.
"The whole region needs support - we partook in the High Country Recovery in Melbourne and those sorts of things have been great."
The cost of smoke taint to the Australian wine industry in 2003 was $300 million, and many wine regions including Tumbarumba and the Adelaide Hills have been physically impacted by fires.
Where grape growers whose crops are unsalable to winemakers are feeling the impact immediately, for many wineries the impact will be along the line when products are available in lesser quantities or not at all.
Mr Holm said while some of Ringer Reef's varieties won't be available later on, there would always be wine for people to taste and buy.
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"February has been busier than normal, and we certainly expect that's from promotions to get people back," he said.
"It's been a good month with lots of people visiting.
"People want to help, and we were very lucky the fire didn't impact our region - there's a lot of areas that have been worse off."
Mr Pfeiffer said events like next weekend's Tastes of Rutherglen would hopefully make up for low visitation in January.
"We are still very much open for business," he said.
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