After seeing off drought, bushfires, torrential rain and a pandemic, bottling this year’s vintage will be especially satisfying for Hunter Valley vigneron Linda Keeping.
Twelve months on from the Black Summer fires, the smoke has cleared and lush green pastures envelope Ms Keeping’s picturesque Two Rivers vineyard near Denman.
“After 2020 it’s just such a joy to be looking over the vineyard on this glorious morning, picking some shiraz fruit that is in optimum condition,” she said.
The challenges have been felt up and down the Hunter Valley, including on Bruce Tyrell’s farm near Pokolbin.
“This time last year we weren’t doing very much at all, we were still at the end of the drought so it hadn’t rained you really couldn’t see outside for smoke and that smoke had written off our vintage,” Mr Tyrell said.
“So we made maybe 10 per cent of a normal vintage and the rest got fed to the cattle or worked back into the vineyard.”
First fire, then pandemic
The fires ravaging the east coast of Australia had barely stopped smouldering when COVID-19 bolted cellar doors shut.
For an industry and a region so reliant on tourism, travel restrictions came as a hammer blow for Hunter winemakers.
“Something I’ll never forget, Easter last year is the first Easter since I was very small that I hadn’t worked on Easter,” Mr Tyrell said.
“It’s our busiest weekend for visitors and we were closed.”
While domestic travel soon returned, international visitors remained locked out, bringing a new set of problems for Stuart Hordern of Brokenwood Wines.
Drought-breaking rain throughout 2020 brought joy for many farmers, but winemakers came within a whisker of having yet another vintage ruined.
“We were looking down the barrel of a very challenging year, with the whites in particular, but the weather gods shined on us and we’re in a great spot due to it,” said Mr Hordern, whose grapes were saved by a spell of January sunshine.
International relations sour
While there are signs of a return to normality, deteriorating relations with China have created a fresh headache for Mr Tyrell.
Despite China only making up 5 per cent of his business, new tariffs have prompted Mr Tyrell to explore markets in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
If nothing else, 2020 has given winemakers like Mr Tyrell a renewed sense of optimism.
“Australia’s pretty resilient, we get out there and go for it,” he said.