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Hunter floods: buildings inundated but vineyards escape

Hunter Valley winemakers are assessing the damage from floods that have killed at least nine people – and are thankful they have come through more or less unscathed.

Floodwaters ripped down the Hunter on Friday night after a three-day storm. Up to 300mm of rain fell since Thursday on parts of the Hunter region, while parts of the Central Coast and Sydney received 200mm.

Nine people have died, including an entire family of five swept away in their car. The floods have been declared a national disaster by the federal government.

As far as wineries are concerned, while many vineyards are still underwater, at this early stage it looks as though damage has been limited to buildings and cellars. The vines themselves – dormant at this time of year – are probably unharmed.

‘We had 1.4m of water in our wine store and cellar door on Saturday,’ Daryl Heslop of Stonehurst Winery in Cedar Creek told decanter.com. ‘It was really moving as well. We have very heavy hardwood tables with benches attached – these are now at the other end of the property.’

He added, ‘You still can’t see the vines in the vineyards, and they’re on five-foot trellises. It’s a lake – but they’re not damaged at all.’

Vineyards whose rows run with the current of the floodwaters will not have been harmed, Heslop said. But if the rows run perpendicular to the flow, they could well have been ripped out.

At Australia’s oldest winery, Wyndam Estate, ‘we are 3m above flood level. We were cut off by the river but there is no damage as such,’ operations manager Tim Bowring said. ‘Tomorrow the winery will be operating.’

He said the water ‘came on and went off the vines fairly quickly.’ He added that he had spoken to the McGuigan estate, another of Hunter’s oldest wineries, and they reported the damage was ‘not nearly as bad as in 1955’, the last, devastating floods the valley suffered.

At Thalgara winery in Pokolbin, ‘the vines survived,’ Steve Lamb said. ‘But this is going to have enormous impact on the tourist industry’ with resorts and hotels closed and cut off during a busy holiday weekend.

‘We seem to have escaped the worst. But if it had been high summer, with all the vines under full fruit, that would have been truly disastrous,’ he said.

Yesterday more than 105,000 homes remained without power in Sydney, Newcastle, the Central Coast and Hunter Valley. About 5,000 residents from Maitland in the Hunter Valley were evacuated over the weekend amid fears that the Hunter River would break levees overnight. They have now been allowed home.

Written by Adam Lechmere

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