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Murrumbateman vineyards severely damaged, stripped of leaves and fruit in destructive hailstorm

Tuesday January 4, 2022 - 23:15 AEDT
ABC image
Damaged grapes on a vine in Murrumbateman, NSW, after a severe storm destroyed crops and brought down trees. - ABC

Murrumbateman wineries recovering from two years of poor yields due to bushfire smoke and drought have been severely damaged by a hailstorm that swept through the area on Monday evening.


Ken Helm of Helm Wines said the storm brought large hailstones and strong winds which destroyed at least 80 per cent of the 2022 crop at his vineyard just outside Canberra.


The storm also left thousands without power and sent trees falling onto homes and cars across the capital, causing the most damage in west Belconnen in the city's north.


The ACT State Emergency Service said it had received nearly 800 calls for help, adding that its staff and volunteers worked throughout the night in response.


'Difficult to remain positive'


Ken Helm, who established his wine business in 1973, said the hailstones were the size of golf balls and described the storm as a "tornado" as it came through Murrumbateman.


"We've lost at least 80 per cent or more of our crop with the hail and the tornado," he said.


"At this time of year you lose all the leaves and the berries are around that the size of peas.


"Basically the whole crop is lost. We only get one go each year to get a vintage, so it's an enormous loss."


He said it was a blow after two years of struggle due to other natural disasters.


"In 2020, we got none because of the drought and the smoke and last year most of the vineyards were still suffering from the drought, so it was a low crop," he said.


"You can't lose three years of income and not be a little bit concerned. It's difficult to remain positive."


M Helm had also had high hopes for this year's yield, which he said had been shaping up to be one of the best yet in more than 40 years of operation.


"It was going to be a record crop across the district. Speaking for ourselves, we were looking at the biggest crop we've ever had," he said.


"And actually, we're in preparation for that ? we were 72 days away from harvest, we estimate, and it's all come to a pretty dramatic stop.


"So at this stage, we're sort of sitting and contemplating where we're going to go."


The storm was so powerful it also knocked down a row of about 40 trees Mr Helm said were more than 100 years old, not far from the vineyard.


The debris from the trees had made the road impassable.


"The storm was so enormous in the wind that the kilometre of road on Keirs Road coming to our place where there's a beautiful tree-lined drive, that is no longer," he said.


"Residents all got together last night and they worked into the dark, clearing it, [because] we actually couldn't get out."


'Incredible damage' in just a couple of minutes


Four Winds Vineyard in Murrumbateman was also damaged in the storm, with the majority of the vineyard stripped by hailstones.


Co-owner Sarah Collingwood said the storm came and went quickly, but the damage it left behind would take much longer to fix.


"It came in incredibly quickly, in just a couple of minutes, and it probably lasted about five or 10 minutes and did incredible damage in that time," she said.


"Our vines have been defoliated, so we still have some leaves on the vines but they're really quite shredded unfortunately and a lot of the fruit has been really bruised.


"It's amazing how much damage it can do in just five minutes."


Ms Collingwood said while the fruit was an essential part of growing grapes for wine, so were the vine leaves, and damage to both left the vineyard with an uncertain crop to harvest.


"The leaves are really important for ripening the grapes, so without the foliage that's been stripped by the hail a lot of the grapes have [also] been damaged," she said.


"The hail hits the little berries that are there at the moment and causes a bit of damage.


"We do have some grapes still there and we'd hope to get a little bit off, but at this stage it's really hard to estimate what we'll get from the vineyard."


She said the stark difference before and after the storm was shocking, but they would put in the work to save what was left of the grapes.


"[The vines] were super green and lush yesterday, and then today there's lots of long canes without any foliage on them at all," she said.


"The vineyard will need a bit of TLC just to make sure it doesn't get any diseases from the damage that was caused by the hail.


"We'll be in the vineyard assessing, and making sure we're looking after the vines to make sure they're all ready for next season."







- ABC

© ABC 2022

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