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Australia’s Swan Valley counts cost of ‘once in a century’ floods

Whole swathes of the upcoming wine harvest in Western Australia's Swan Valley have been washed away by fierce flooding not seen in more than a generation.

Catastrophic floods are estimated to have cost Western Australia’s Swan Valley wine region millions of dollars in fruit losses right at the climax of this year’s growing season.

The region, which has been declared a ‘natural disaster zone’ by government officials, received an unprecedented deluge of rain this month. Water burst the banks of the Swan River and flooded many of the low lying vineyards in the vicinity.

While nearby Sandalford Wines had picked most of the whites prior to the rains, chief executive Grant Brinklow said there was no time to save the Chenin Blanc or Semillon.

‘This was a catastrophic once in a century event’

‘Parts of our property were 10-foot under water,’ he told Decanter.com.

‘Chenin Blanc is more susceptible to the skins splitting so the vines soaked up all of the moisture and we now have this explosion of fruit split. Botrytis and mould then set in from the humid conditions that followed.

‘In 177 years of growing wine grapes on this site, we’ve never experienced botrytis and fruit splitting of this scale. This was a catastrophic once in a century event.

‘We’re removing some fruit to eliminate the risk of botrytis spreading in the vineyard and to avoid the disease impacting on future vintages.’

Sittella Wines is located on the upper banks of the Swan River and as word spread of the impending flood, the team worked night and day to pick all of the whites. But, the entire Shiraz block and some Petit Verdot were unsalvageable.

‘The Shiraz crop was literally drowned in two-metres of water. We couldn’t even see the top wire of the vines for days,’ said owner, Maaike Berns. ‘The areas above the water line are now susceptible to disease. It’s devastating.’

Swan Valley and Regional Winemakers Association president John Griffiths said, ‘A few wineries have been severely affected by flooding. After 140mm of rain it certainly has put all wineries in the Swan Valley under a lot of pressure, setting back ripening, splitting grapes and causing disease, so lots of fruit will be lost.’

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