Vineyard faced with toughest of decisions

Vineyard faced with toughest of decisions

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EIGHT weeks on from the devastating Cudlee Creek fire, which tore through a third of the vineyards in the Adelaide Hills wine region, green shoots are starting to emerge, but recovery is a long and daunting path for the vineyard owners and winemakers who were in the fire's path.

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EIGHT weeks on from the devastating Cudlee Creek fire, which tore through a third of the vineyards in the Adelaide Hills wine region, green shoots are starting to emerge, but recovery is a long and daunting path for the vineyard owners and winemakers who were in the fire's path.

About 1000 hectares of vineyards were within the Cudlee Creek fireground, a third of the vines that produce grapes for the Adelaide Hills wine industry. In total, the inferno burned 25,000ha of land and destroyed more than 70 homes in late December.

At the house of New Era Vineyards owner Bob Baxter, who runs the business with son Iain, water and electricity have just been returned and they are starting to consider their path forward.

Their 14ha Woodside vineyard was ravaged, with Bob estimating only 1ha of vines could be recovered, albeit in two to three years.

The Baxters have been watering much of their vineyard to see what would regenerate, but signs were not promising.

"A lot of our vines are going to have to be replanted, they're destroyed," he said.

"We're not seeing much growth from the arms and even any sucker green is quite limited. A lot of those are on root stock so any suckers that are growing aren't of any use to us.

"We're going to have to take a chainsaw to those, spray them with Roundup and replant vines."

He says there is a mammoth six-year, $1.5-million recovery effort required before full production could resume, a daunting prospect for New Era, which also lost the barrel stock from the last vintage - 45 barrels - as well as 6000 bottles of aged stock and winemaking equipment including pumps, hoses, a crusher, de-stemmer, tanks and a forklift.

Mr Baxter's personal wine collection, accumulated throughout his 45 years in the industry, is gone.

Their house still stands but came precariously close to going up in smoke, with an adjoining flat and shed completely gutted.

Full wine barrels were incinerated, with only their iron rings remaining, wine bottles have melted into a discernible blob of molten glass. The frame of a quad bike, remains of a car and melted cab of a tractor used during the firefighting effort give a further hint into the ferocity of the flames.

"The challenge is to decide what we're going to do from here," Mr Baxter said.

"We've got to make a call as to whether we've got the funding to recover and to be frank I don't think we have the funding.

"There's also the timeframe associated with it.

"Do we put the time, effort and money into the redevelopment or do we just call it quits and move on?

"We don't want to make a rash call but it comes down to economics to a certain extent."

Mr Baxter said the company was attempting to source wines to keep their brand afloat while they cleaned up the mess.

"That'd buy us a bit of time to decide what we do here," he said.

One bright spot in a dark and difficult time has been the support of the local community, according to Mr Baxter.

Donated drip lines have been laid out by dedicated groups of volunteers, who have also cleaned up a lot of the vine debris within the vineyard.

"It's not only the physical help they bring, the psychological support is important as well," Mr Baxter said.

"We still have some stocks of wine and it has been encouraging that people have contacted us through our website and as a result of what's happened have been buying wine from us.

"We're very appreciative because that gives us some cash to help tide us over.

"The response from the public has been quite overwhelming and uplifting."

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