News from the fire ground: The journey towards recovery

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Background:

Summer 2019/2020 has seen the most devastating fire season Kangaroo Island has even known.  Major fires, sparked by dry lightening strikes, began burning on Kangaroo Island mid-December.  On January 3rd storms sparked new bushfires on the western end of the Island, the extreme weather conditions created a firestorm which burnt approx 30% of the western end of the Island including the Flinders Chase National Park several wilderness areas.  On January 10th strong winds fanning existing firegrounds caused a second firestorm which pushed the fires east and north to claim a total of 48% and over 210,000 hectres of the Island. 

This second fire, fuelled by nearby commercial pine plantations and the stunning Parndana Conservation area bordering The Islander Estate Vineyards property, caused the loss of our entire 280-hectare property including the farm, 11-hectare vineyard, vineyard equipment, irrigation, offices, wine lab, sheds, housing and water sources.  The destruction also claimed the property’s 80 hectares of pristine remnant native bush and 150 hectares of cropping land.

The Estate: 
The first few weeks of recovery have been spent clearing critical areas of the property to make them safe, securing basic resouces such as power, water, telecommunications and conducting a full assessment of the extent of damage across the estate.
Determining the true extent of the damage to our vineyard will take a little more time as many factors influence the prospects of recovery for the vines.  We have been fortunate to access expertise from many sources including Toby Bekker of Bekkers Wines (who helped plant our vineyard in 2000) and the team at Shaw and Smith who have first hand experience from the recent Adelaide Hills fires. A first step currently underway is to remove damaged irrigation and wiring from the vines to clear the way for any live vines to be cut back at ground level to encouraging new shoots before winter. Within a few weeks we will be better able to identify areas of the vineyard offer potential for rehabilitation and then to plan the way forward for future vintages. Like most fire-impacted wine businesses, we will not have a 2020 vintage but within the next few months, we fully expect to have plans in place for vintage 2021 and beyond.

Wine Stocks:  
Before the 9th January fire hit the property, our team had the opportunity to take measures to protect our wine stocks in bottle, barrel and tanks.  All of our wine stocks have been preserved and our business is operating as normal from a sales perspective. Continued support from our customers is critical to providing the financial resources to keep our staff engaged and to begin building towards recovery. We will be undertaking a bottling in the new few weeks, which will ensure we have a continued supply of the majority of our most popular wines. Our cellar door at Cygnet River was unaffected by the fire and is operating at its regular hours, 6 days a week, noon to 5pm (closed Wed). The Cygnet River Artisan Trail has been untouched by fire and is a fantastic place to spend an afternoon supporting local wine, spirit, food and art producers. Our online sales are flowing smoothly, sending orders Australia wide to our many wonderful customers & supporters. Our Discoverer's Wine Club continues to grow and provide our most valued customers with excellent value and access to our limited and new releases.

Our gratitute:

Some significant steps have already been made towards recovery, and we could not have taken these without an immemse amount of support from so many sources, some official, some unofficial, from friends, from neighbours, from volunteers and from total strangers who have offered to assist us along the way. Thanks to the Australian Defence Force personnel who undertook so much of the clean up and heavy work of tree felling immediately following the fire when we were still in shock.  They continue to assist us today in the vineyard.  To Blazeaid and their volunteers who are helping so many to reestablish critical fencing across the Island. To our neighbours, friends and families too numerous to mention but you know who you are and we have immense gratitude for your support. To the fellow winemakers who have stepped in to actively help us assess the vineyard and offer us their resources: Mike Brown and the Gemtree team, Toby Bekkers from Bekkers Wines, Martin, Adam, Murray and the Shaw and Smith team.

Our Future Plans:

While it will take some time to determine the future of our vineyard, one thing is in no doubt.  We are more passionate and determined than ever to produce unique wines which show the true potential of Kangaroo Island as an emerging wine region. We know the recovery effort will be huge and it will take a number of years for our small team to return to full production, but like all Kangaroo Islander’s we are resilient and resourceful, so the only way to move is forward.

The support from our customers in the form of kind words, messages of support and orders spurs us forward.

So please come visit us on Kangaroo Island, bring your friends and family, drop into our cellar door for a tasting, visit our neighbours on the intimate Cygnet River Artisan Trail.  We look forward to welcoming you.

Islander Estate Vineyards News |  by Yale Norris