Smoke taint spoils 2020 vintage

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A number of Canberra region winemakers are opting not to harvest fruit for vintage 2020 due to smoke taint from the recent bushfires.

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A number of individual wineries in the Canberra District have decided not to harvest in 2020. Lake George Winery will be picking for Pinot Gris following inconclusive tests to measure smoke taint. Photo courtesy Lake George Winery.

Amongst those who have made the difficult decision not to produce wine this year are Clonakilla, Shaw Wines, Poachers Pantry and Lark Hill Winery.

In a statement, Lark Hill Winery said they conducted extensive testing of fruit from their vineyard at Bungendore and Dark Horse Vineyard, Murrumbateman.

“These tests show smoke compounds at 10 times the threshold levels for winemaking. Experimental ferments of these samples have confirmed that wines made from this fruit is unacceptably tainted.”

Clonakilla issued a similar statement citing “unacceptably high levels of smoke taint across all varieties and all vineyard sites” but acknowledged it affects one vintage only and that “winemaking will resume as normal in 2021”.

It has been a challenging season for winemakers with drought, fires, smoke and hail. While the decision not to harvest in 2020 has already been made by a number of individual wineries, the Canberra District Wine Industry Association (CDWIA) said the full impact is yet to be known.

In a recent vintage update, CDWIA said “each area within our district are receiving vastly different levels of smoke taint results, and as several wineries are still going through the smoke testing process, we still don’t have a clear picture of the level of damage to the whole district just yet”.

One vineyard that will be picking is Lake George Winery. Winery co-owner Sarah McDougall said their smoke taint results were inconclusive so they have decided to pick Pinot Gris, make a wine and send that off for further testing. She said it will be about a six-week process and they are “optimistic”.

They also recently picked fruit for verjuice, which is not affected as you “only get smoke taint when you ferment things”.

Ms McDougall, who is also secretary of the CDWIA, said they are hopeful of being able to make other wines but has flagged the possibility of bringing in fruit from non-smoke affected areas to do so. She expects a number of other wineries will follow suit “and continue to make good quality wines”.

While the prospective lack of vintage 2020 is disappointing for the industry, Ms McDougall said local wines will still be available.

“Coming into winter, a lot of the wineries in the district will release their 2018 reds and some 2019 wines. We all still have a lot of wine to release so that should get us through to 2021.”

Importantly, the wineries are still open for business “and more than ever we want to see people come and support local”.

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