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Adelaide Hills bushfire crisis: winemakers count the cost of a Friday to forget

By Saturday 21 December 2019April 12th, 20212 Comments

Firstly, the Adelaide Hills wine community has been hit hard by the Cudlee Creek bushfire. If you would like to do your little bit to help, please buy a bottle of Hills wine to have with your Christmas lunch.

Barristers Block, Henschke, Petaluma, Anderson Hill, Simon Tolley Wines, Tomich Wines, Golding Wines, Vinteloper, Nova Vita, Artwine, Bird in Hand and Geoff Weaver have all lost vines in the blaze, which started when a tree fell on power lines.

About 20 wineries are affected by the bushfire. The burnt area contains one-third of all Adelaide Hills vineyards.

One of the worst-affected wine producers is Tilbrook Estate in Lobethal. It has lost everything.

“Just one charred (empty) barrel left,” James Tilbrook says on Facebook.

“All the bottled wine has exploded. The heat was that intense it melted empty bottles.

“All the equipment is fire damaged/stuffed.

“At the moment we are still trying to process it all. Our biggest problem is that we have lost our livelihood, which means we can’t pay our mortgage or other outgoings.”

A Go Fund Me page called Save Tilbrook Estate Wines has been set up.

Channel 7 helicopter footage of the region shows the extent of the devastation. Dozens of homes and buildings have been lost. The overall damage bill could reach $200 million.

It all happened so quickly.

The CFS tweeted early yesterday morning that there was a fire at Cudlee Creek. Alarming news because it’s a heavily-wooded area and the wind was coming from the north. The CFS had warned the previous day that if a fire started in the Hills, they probably couldn’t stop it.

It was a ‘Catastrophic’ fire day. It was 42 degrees at 10am. And the fire was coming our way.

We live at Balhannah, 25km south of Cudlee Creek.

Wine writer Philip White knows the area well. He tweeted, “There you have precisely the wrong place for a bushfire to explode on the hottest day on record.”

A towering plume of brown smoke suddenly appeared on the horizon.

Anderson Hill vineyard (Facebook).

We picked up a friend from Woodside which was in the direct path of the fire. The smoke blocked out the sun and the countryside was bathed in an eerie golden glow.

It felt like sunset – but it was 10am.

Onkaparinga Valley Road, the main way thoroughfare in the Hills, began to fill up with a steady stream of cars, many of them towing horse floats, heading for safety.

The flames raced towards Lobethal – and Golding Wines. I received text messages from several people in the wine industry saying that Golding had lost its cellar door. The ABC ran with it. It turned out to be untrue. They lost some prized vineyards but Darren Golding stayed behind to defend the property with the CFS. They saved it.

The fire travelled quickly to Woodside where it claimed more vineyards including Tomich. The fire crossed Onkaparinga Valley Road and headed towards Brukunga where the CFS helicopters and planes are based.

The Erickson air crane helicopter had to relocate to the relative safety of Mount Barker oval.

Burnt vineyards at Woodside. Photo: Tomich Wines (Facebook).

CFS map showing the burnt area in the Adelaide Hills.

A southerly change at 5pm saw the fire broaden to the east, again threatening the towns of Woodside and Lobethal as well as Mount Torrens and Gumeracha.

The Woodside Christmas Pageant was cancelled for the first time in history on Thursday night. The Lobethal Lights have also been cancelled. In some good news for the local kids, Melba’s chocolate factory was saved.

Our bushfire plan is to just grab the dog and leave. I went to the Mount Barker oval initially where it was 46 degrees – unheard of in the Hills. The sky was orange out towards Nairne.

It would surely be cooler in Goolwa on the coast down south – it was 47 degrees when I arrived.

The Adelaide Hills is a tight community and the text messages came thick and fast.

There are so many sad stories.

I don’t know how many homes and vineyards have been lost. Quite a lot, I’m guessing, because the burnt area is so large – 25,000 hectares at last count.

Winemaker Geoff Weaver, a keen artist, tweeted, “Terrible day at Lenswood with the fires. Our lovely corner of the Hills became a furnace. Lost our sheds, tractor, car and all my paintings.

“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Still I am OK for which I am thankful.”

Tomich Wines said it was the day “our ever-latent fears were realised”.

“We have suffered quite a lot of damage to the property, but thankfully our house and sheds remain untouched,” Tomich said on Facebook.

“Most importantly, we are all safe. We are indebted to the CFS who are still bravely fighting this catastrophic blaze. We are ever grateful and indebted to our own staff who stayed or returned to fight for what was left.”

Still standing… Golding Wines.

Bird In Hand reported limited damage. Founder Andrew Nugent said, “’We have been extremely lucky. Our hearts go out to the Hills community who have lost their land, homes and lives.

“Everyone is safe thanks to the tireless work of the local firefighters and volunteers. We will rebuild and recover with the help of our dedicated staff over the next few days.’’

Kerry Treuel, executive officer of the Adelaide Hills Wine Region said, “We do know there have been vineyards, wineries and cellar doors damaged today but the extent of what has occurred is not clear at this stage. It will be days, weeks, even months before the full impact can be understood.”

Darren and Lucy Golding posted on Facebook: “Thank you to the CFS crews who rushed towards our property and helped Darren fight this fire. As always we are indebted to you for your bravery and efforts in trying to stop such a terrible fire and protect our property.

“The threat has not gone, Darren remains there dealing with spot fires and I know there are many others in the Hills fighting to protect their properties right now.

“Friends and neighbours are suffering losses. My heart aches for our Hills community on this blackest of days.”

At last count the post had 4,800 likes, 376 shares and 979 comments.

No shortage of goodwill at Golding.

The outpouring of community support for those affected makes you cry. People have baked scones for the volunteer firefighters and there have been numerous offers for free accommodation, clothes and food.

Nicole McIntosh, who owns The Olive Branch Balhannah, where many wine folks have enjoyed a coffee over the years, lost her home in Lobethal.

She still opened the cafe this morning.

She posted on Facebook: “Kezza Mazda is a wonderful local children’s entertainer – she has offered to do a free show in the cafe from 11 for any kids who may not be able to get home or just need a distraction from the sh$& going on.”

Burnt-out trees on Post Office Road at Lobethal. By ABC News (Michael Clements).

There are many stories of workers helping to defend farms, orchards, vineyards and wineries, only to go home and find their own homes destroyed.

While many vineyards have been lost or damaged, wineries in the Mount Barker, Balhannah, Nairne and Hahndorf region including Shaw + Smith, Hahndorf Hill, Nepenthe, The Lane and Sidewood are unaffacted.

The same goes for vineyards and producers in the Piccadilly Valley, Ashton, Uraidla and Summertown.

And wineries and vineyards south of the freeway are all fine.

When the dust settles, the cellar doors will be wanting to welcome visitors again with open arms.

We are all well aware of the risk of living in the Adelaide Hills in the summer. This is our family’s second close call in four years having also cleared out quickly when the Sampson Flat fire began.

Some Hills residents will be upset enough by this tragedy to sell up and live somewhere else. But most local residents wouldn’t live anywhere else; I’m one of them.

You certainly won’t budge the winemakers and growers from this beautiful corner of the world.

They will be back better than ever.

As one winemaker said, “We’ll rebuild the vineyards. We’re just thankful that everyone is ok.”

Balhannah was in the emergency warning area for a time yesterday, but we are okay for now.

We returned home at 9.30 last night. I turned on the Christmas tree lights and had a beer outside.

The smoke was gone, the stars were out and there was a gentle cooling breeze.

It was soon too cold to sit outside.

That’s the Adelaide Hills I know!

But today’s another day and the crisis is far from over.

A lot of the affected cellar doors in the Hills are closing until after Christmas.

If you would like to do your bit for local winemakers, please go to the bottle-o and buy an Adelaide Hills wine to have with your Christmas lunch.

There’s a great selection of Adelaide Hills wines at the Stirling Hotel Cellars and Patisserie, the Stanley Bridge Tavern, the Crafers Hotel and the Uraidla Hotel.

And perhaps buy some beautiful Hills cheese, cherries and strawberries while you’re at it.

Many lives have been shattered. We are thinking of you all.

Anderson Hill: “That happy sad moment for the day was rescuing this little girl, she was one of the lucky ones.”

Adelaide Hills wineries worth supporting right now…

Anderson Hill
Barristers Block
Bird in Hand
Geoff Weaver
Golding Wines
Nova Vita
Simon Tolley Wines
Tilbrook Estate
Tomich Wines



  • If a wine auction is being organized we will donate 5 dozen to raise funds. A small barossa winery trying to help other small wineries



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