Fires rage in Yarra Valley


7 February 2019 This Thursday's delve into the archives is a particularly frightening one, one from exactly 10 years ago written as Yarra Valley was suffering its worst fires in a generation or more. We hope that this tenth anniversary of Black Saturday is not too traumatic and that those remembering it feel that they are in a much better place today. I'm told by Caroline Evans, CEO of Wine Yarra Valley, 'the community is preparing for what will be an emotional commemoration'. Our commiserations to the increasing number of people in the wine world who have suffered as a result of wildfires. Or indeed fires of any sort (see Vallejo arsonist jailed). 

7 February 2009 Bushfires are still raging in the Australian state of Victoria, claiming dozens (now hundreds – 12 Feb)  of lives, hundreds of buildings and several vineyards, including that of garlanded winemaker Tom Carson who recently moved from Yering Station in Yarra Valley to Yabby Lake in Mornington Peninsula. 

I write at the end of the Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir Celeberation on the cool Sunday morning after the terrible day before. We had been warned yesterday morning that temperatures would flare to over 40 ºC (about 100 ºF) and indeed they did, suddenly, for a few deadly hours yesterday afternoon. Here on the supposedly cool Mornington Peninsula the heat seemed quite bearable – partly because it was extremely dry, partly because of the accompanying strong winds.

But of course it was these winds, plus the record four days over 40 ºC last week, the like of which the state of Victoria had never seen before, that provided the tinderbox and a means of spreading any spark into a blaze.

As we sat down to yesterday's afternoon session, air conditioning losing the battle and Freddy Mugnier's gorgeous Nuits and Chambolles valiantly managing to charm us by being served unusually cool, we were told that, most unusually, we were allowed to keep our mobile phones on, in case of alarm calls about the bushfires.

Australia's senior wine writer James Halliday sped off straight after the Mugnier tasting to see what was happening to his home on Coldstream Hills vineyard. The temperatures dropped suddenly in late afternoon so that I even took a wrap to the supposedly celebratory dinner. But the mood darkened considerably when the Celebration's chairman Keith Harris of Yabby Lake told us all that he had just heard from his colleague Tom Carson that his personal vineyard had been wiped out by fire. 

I'm meant to be going to the Yarra Valley myself today and am told by Tom's successor at Yering Station Willy Lund that Yering Station has been spared. The papers here are full of maps of the fires and pictures of the blaze.  Phil Sexton's Giant Steps winery, also on my itinerary, is unaffected apparently although there are spot fires in the vineyards throughout the Yarra Valley, lending horrible truth to the brand pictured here. The worst affected areas in the Yarra Valley seem to be in the north around Healesville with Yarra Glen being particularly badly burnt. Some townships around Heathcote were evacuated for a few hours yesterday but the Macedon Ranges, which has suffered terrible bushfires in the past, seems to have been spared. (I'm planning a visit to Curly Flat tomorrow.) 

Everyone remembers so-called Ash Wednesday in February 1983, when Australia's worst bushfires claimed 75 lives and left a smoke pall so thick that Melbournians could not even see the sun.  I have the horrible feeling that there is worse news to come, but at least the winds, which treacherously changed direction late yesterday afternoon, initiating a new series of firefronts, have calmed down – and temperatures have plummeted to the low 20s. And now, here in Mornington, just in time for the outdoor tasting, it is drizzling.  Extraordinary weather indeed.