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Record-breaking cold snap wipes out vineyards in WA's south

Jon Daly, Saturday November 10, 2018 - 08:04 EDT
ABC licensed image
Frost-damaged grapevines after the record-breaking November cold snap. - ABC licensed

Winemakers in Western Australia's Great Southern region are reeling from a recent frost event that damaged up to 80 per cent of their vines.

The acclaimed Frankland River wine region, 120 kilometres north-west of Albany, was worst hit by record-low temperatures for November, which swept across the region earlier this week.

Frankland River is renowned for its riesling and shiraz, but the upcoming season may not be as fruitful.

Frankland River Grape Growers and Winemakers Association president Hunter Smith said it was one of the worst frost events the region had ever experienced.

"A lot of the growers through the region are affected anywhere to the tune of very little damage through to some growers reporting 70 and even 80 per cent crop loss through that one event," he said.

Damage at a crucial time

Bureau of Meteorology spokesman Neil Bennett said the frost event was caused by a combination of a strong cold front and a high pressure system.

He said the cold snap broke several records across the region.

Bridgetown and Katanning, about 120km north-west and 110km north-east of Frankland River respectively, experienced the coldest November night in 20 years of record keeping on November 6.

The frost came at a crucial time as the new growth from the vines approached flowering.

"A lot of those vine leaves are quite thin, so it actually doesn't take much of a frost event to totally freeze those, and kill those shoots right off," Mr Smith said.

"We are probably a week away from some of the early varieties, like chardonnay, going into flowering, so it's a really critical time of year, and that's where we'll see the most significant losses."

One fell swoop

Rodney Hallett of family-owned Alkoomi Wines is one of the hardest-hit growers.

He said about 80 per cent of his vineyard was damaged.

"I looked at the vineyard and realised the full impact of it," Mr Hallett said.

"We'd been hit a lot worse than I thought."

Mr Hallett said the majority of the Alkoomi was a "write-off" for the upcoming season, and he had no insurance for the damage.

"The cost of insuring for frost is quite prohibitive. It's just one of those things and we just have to cop it on the chin," he said.

Mr Hallett said it was disheartening to see all the money, time and effort that went into growing the crop, go to waste.

"It all comes out of our pocket, and when you lose it all in one fell swoop, it's a bit hard to take."

A region on the mend

The damage comes as Frankland River's wineries recoup their losses from a 2014 hail event that left a trail of destruction across the region.

"We lost 90 per cent of our crop then," Mr Hallett said.

"We're actually just recovering from all that and now it's happening all over again."

However, Mr Hallett is optimistic about the upcoming vintage.

"There is a potential to get some more than reasonable quality out of the wine varieties," he said.

Mr Smith said winemakers would rally and carry on.

"We're gaining a very strong reputation for producing world quality wines and I am sure all those efforts will go into what remains," he said.


© ABC 2018

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