Photo at top – Judith Perkins

Growing wine grapes in the Yass Valley region is undoubtedly a satisfying, enriching and potentially bank-account friendly business. But just ask any grape grower around our region at the moment how they feel about this year’s vintage, and you are likely to hear words like nervous, apprehensive and anxious. Summer is the peak of the growing season in the vineyard, but summer can also deal our grape growers a dud-hand.

Julie Hearne captures a storm coming over Rye Park

This year we have witnessed the destruction that storm cells can cause with trees down, damage to property and washed-out roads and bridges. But one of the most significant weather issues that our grape growers face is hail. Most of their computers have the BOM radar on a constant cycle when storms are forecast.

When the abominable black blob emerges on the radar and appears to approach their vineyards, gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands will quickly follow. Small hailstones can pit the grape skins, exposing the grapes to disease. But when masses of large hailstones smash down, a whole new level of damage can be inflicted. In the most severe events, the leaves and bunches can be stripped from their vines.

Storm damage – a tough start to 2022 for local winemakers

Many vineyards in the Yass Valley region have experienced this level of hail ‘hate’ in recent weeks. Perhaps you have seen images on social media platforms of destructed vines and their devastated human custodians? Some vineyards had luck on their side and were not in the firing line, some were partially wiped out, but others have incurred near-total losses and are facing the prospect of another vintage lost to the weather gods.

Another sinister side of summer weather is also sneaking around the region’s vineyards – the threat of feral forms of fungus. Our region has seen above-average rainfalls, and while this is a good thing for soil moisture levels and the filling of dams and tanks, it also creates big headaches for grape growers. When combined, rainfall and heat can produce high humidity levels in the vineyard. Highly humid conditions curate the environment for downy and powdery mildew to propagate across the vineyard. There are deeply scientific explanations of how these diseases cause carnage but suffice to say that if not prevented, the grapevines and their leaves eventually die off.

When grapevines don’t have leaves, the grapes won’t ripen, and the vintage is again under threat of devastation. Fortunately, prevention is possible, and you will see tractors in many vineyards, spraying vine-saving concoctions and vineyard workers managing the vine canopy to allow maximum airflow.

Local winemakers have tackled tough years in the past with ingenuity – Four Winds Vineyard making gin with smoke tainted grapes with award-winning results – Photo credit Megan Cassidy

Photo of Brent Lello - Yass Valley Wine AdvocateThere’s a lot of passion, skill and experience needed to grow excellent grapes and make wonderful wine. Still, it takes a little bit of good luck too, or at least the absence of bad luck.

Brent Lello – Yass Valley Wine Columnist