Rows of vines can be seen at sunset at Yalumba's Jansz estate in the Tamar Valley, located in the northeast of Tasmania, 4 June 2014. Photo: Reuters / David Gray

By Colin Packham; Editing by Richard Pullin
14 January 2016

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Winemakers in Australia's oldest growing region fear a ruined harvest after heavy rainfall, while vineyards in the country's west are under threat from bushfires, undermining efforts to recover from a near decade-long run of lower exports.

Just weeks out from the 2016 harvest, the contrasting events highlight the challenges from climate change, particularly extreme weather, faced by the world's fourth-largest wine exporter. Not only are wine growing regions getting hotter, weather is also becoming more unpredictable, scientists say.

"We've had one of the biggest downpours we have had in a long time," said Neil McGuigan, chief executive of Australian Vintage Ltd, one of the largest wine producers in the Hunter Valley, some 250 km (155 miles) north of Sydney.

"We are on the edge, if we get more rain, we will start to develop disease and as soon as that happens, you will not be able to harvest the fruit," said McGuigan.

As much as 200 millimetres (7.9 inches) of rain fell across Australia's east coast last week, data from the country's Bureau of Meteorology shows, twice the average January rainfall.

By contrast, Bernie Worthington in Western Australia lost his vineyard when a bushfire burned his property in Waroona in the state's southwest last week. Even if wildfires don't destroy a crop, they can leave an entire vintage with "smoke taint", leading to wines that taste like an ashtray.

The climate extremes seen through the 2015/16 season are a foretaste of future climate change, scientists say, which is threatening the outlook for Australia's wine industry. […]

"The science projections do not point to Australia's climate getting any more favorable," said Phin Ziebell, agribusiness economist, National Australia Bank. [more]

Climate extremes threaten Australia's wine industry



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