In the wake of Australia’s devastating national bushfires over summer, an IQA member relates the spirit and resilience she has encountered in one of South Australia’s renowned wine regions.
In early February, I headed up into South Australia’s Adelaide Hills to buy wine for our IQA events, and I thought it would be appropriate to head up to support our fire-affected communities. Not having ventured into the area, it was sobering driving passing blaze aid, army clean-up teams and the hit and miss destruction of the recent devastating fires. The two wineries that I visited were Artwine and Tilbrook Estate wines.
Artwine lost vines, irrigation, fencing and trellising, with the fire coming within 10 metres of the owners’ home. Fortunately they still had a cellar door to operate from and wine to sell. It seemed quieter than usual but I was listening to great stories from customers telling the cellar door staff how they had made their way up especially to buy from the area.
Tilbrook Estate Artisan Winery wasn’t as lucky. It lost all its wine, shedding, machinery, lost vineyards and associated irrigation and trellising. Worse, even though the Tilbrooks were insured, the complete loss of their stock meant they were more than 13 times underinsured because their product was only covered for bulk wine value, not retails sales value.
James and Annabelle Tilbrook were so lovely, they took the time to walk me around their property and share their worries, current financial and emotional condition and also where they want to be in the future – to build a sustainable hub and replant newer varietals to replace the burnt vines. They shared their story of how overwhelmed they are and just trying to navigate their way forward and the paperwork involved in accessing funding, filling out insurance forms, working part-time at other jobs and rebuilding.
The Tilbrook Estate Artisan Winery business, in the Adelaide Hills, SA. The Tilbrooks are determined to rebuild their life’s work after the summer’s devastating fires.
James told me that when he first visited the vineyard after the fire went through, he thought he had lost everything and couldn’t process what had happened. However, a friend, whose vineyard was also affected by the fires, advised him the vines could recover if “we took some drastic steps”. This required volunteers with utes and 1000-litre intermediate bulk containers to hand water the vines, people with firefighting units to spray water over the vines, and others “to cut back the 80 per cent of the vineyard that was heat-affected but potentially saveable”.
James Tillbrook said the community response to the Tilbrook Estate’s plight had been overwhelmingly effusive. “We have had over 200 volunteers and tradespeople – including one electrician who cumulatively spent two days out there reconnecting power so we could pump water from our bore into the nearly empty dam, which we then pump up to a concrete header tank.”
There is now hope that the vineyard may recover. “The work we have done seems to be showing the first green tips of life,” James said. “The grass has started to go green with the three decent rain events we had over the last couple of weeks and will return to full green when the autumn rains come.”
Winemaker Simon Greenleaf sold James and Annabelle six pallets of wine (aptly named “Hope”) at cost so they can keep trading, they have borrowed a ute (to pack the wine into and set up an Eftpos machine), set up a makeshift table, a couple of boxes of glasses, a manual labeller and sold wine under a building frame.
“We have been offered winemaking facilities and donated fruit so we can make wine this vintage,” James said. “Life will go on. People have been incredibly generous with their time, with their expertise and with what else they can offer (a work colleague of my wife has loaned us a four-wheel drive ute for two months, for example). There have been lots of cases of human kindness – people from the local community, from surrounding towns, from Adelaide and from further afield. Plus we are getting wine merchants and restaurants contact us and say they want to help and stock our wine. We have a GoFundMe page and there are chefs and sommeliers banding together to run high end fundraisers. There’s gala dinners and so on. Not all for us, by any means, but it is gratifying that the wine trade, the wine industry, hospitality and tourism are all digging deep and trying to help all the people so badly affected. This is the true Aussie spirit – helping a person when they are down, banding together in a time of crisis, thinking of the other person. I am glad I live in Australia.”
I thought I should share where I spent the IQA’s money, as often in our meetings we talk about SA dollars looking after SA. I definitely feel that was achieved on my visit. •
Cathy Moore is a member of the IQA’s South Australian branch committee.