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Adelaide Hills vineyard burns in worst bush fire for decades

Dozens of firefighters in South Australia have spent the past two days battling a blaze in the Adelaide Hills region that has destroyed at least half of one winery's vineyards.

A partially melted wine bottle in the shell of a house destroyed by fire in Adelaide Hills. Image credit: Getty / AFP / Brenton Edwards

Flames came to within 20 metres of the winery building at Kersbrook Hill Wines, before fire crews managed to contain the blaze, according to managing director Paul Clark.

‘Unfortunately, the vineyards haven’t fared quite so well,’ he told ABC News in an audio interview at the weekend. He estimated that he has lost at least 50% of this year’s grape harvest and described how half of the wooden posts in one vineyard had been burned to ashes.

Family-owned Kersbrook Hill found itself at risk from a large fire that began at Sampson Flat, an expanse of scrubland that lies in the Mount Lofty Ranges, near One Tree Hill.

Bush fires are an annual threat in parts of South Australia, and Grant Burge’s Krondorf winery in Barossa had a narrow escape 12 months ago. But, some officials have already said the current fires in the Adelaide Hills area are the worst seen since 1983.

There have so far been few reports of other wineries damaged or threatened. But, the most recent update from the country fire service (CFS) on 5 January warned that several areas in the vicinity of Sampson Flat remained at risk.

A full picture is difficult to ascertain. because many people have not been allowed to return to their properties.

‘We’re all safe here in our corner of the Adelaide Hills, but fellow winemakers in the northern parts of the region are [not] so lucky with heat and smoke damaged vineyards a real concern,’ said Hamish Laurie, owner of Deviation Road winery in Longwood. ‘Fortunately, there has been no loss of life thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the CFS, the many volunteers and relatively favourable weather conditions.’

Robin Shaw, chief executive of the Adelaide Hills wine region, told Decanter.com, ‘A few vineyards in the northern area have been impacted but no wineries or cellar doors have been affected. We’re fortunate that the shifting winds have moved the smoke around and the grapes are still pre-veraison, so at this stage everything is looking okay.’

Temperatures were forecast to rise this week, and the CFS said that could exacerbate the situation.

Several firefighters have been injured while tackling the fire and a number of homes have been destroyed, but there have been no reported deaths to date.

James March, chief executive of the Barossa Grape & Wine Association further north of Adelaide, where vineyards have been unaffected by fires, praised the efforts of emergency services in Adelaide Hills and said there was ‘tremendous community support’ across the region for those affected.

The Australian Wine Research Institute has been offering winemakers advice on the risk of smoke taint.

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Written by Chris Mercer

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