A fermenting tower has collapsed at McLaren Vale winery Wirra Wirra, seriously injuring a cellar hand and destroying a significant amount of the 2008 vintage.

A number of fermenters, tanks and presses were damaged in the accident, which happened in the midst of the 2008 vintage.

Wirra Wirra said it was ‘remarkable’ that nobody else was injured, given the number of workers in the winery at the time.

Early media reports suggested that the wine losses at the facility could amount to AUS$10m, but Wirra Wirra CEO Andrew Kay denied this. ‘While it is difficult to determine at this time the full extent of wine lost, it is significantly less than has been reported,’ he said.

‘We’d like to extend our thanks to all the emergency services, whose quick action and professionalism were outstanding.’

He added, ‘Our thoughts are with our young cellar hand, who is currently in a serious, yet stable condition at Flinders Medical Centre. We are pleased to hear that he is making positive progress.’

Kay also thanked the winemaking community of McLaren Vale and neighbouring districts for all their offers of help and good wishes. ‘Some of the wine in tank may still be salvageable, while offers of fruit from growers to offset the loss have been coming in thick and fast,’ he said.

‘While the loss of wine is important to our business, clearly the safety and welfare of our staff is of greatest priority.’

The company is co-operating with health and safety body SafeWork SA in investigating the accident and assessing the full extent of the damage to the winery.

‘Greg Trott produced the first vintage of Church Block back in 1972 “with a little help from his friends”,’ Kay said. ‘It looks like history will repeat itself in 2008.’

Written by Richard Woodard