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heatwave photoTHE FOLLOWING ARTICLE published on the Sydney Morning Herald website looks back at the past week’s heatwave and how one Aussie vineyard tried to beat the heat. Peter Munro reports.

Above: Rod Gribble with chardonnay grapes that have been ravaged by the heatwave. Photo: Anthony Johnson.

Rod Gribble looks at his horror harvest through the haze of another 40C-plus day.

He’s been up working since the early hours to beat the heat, only to be mauled by mosquitoes.

Sunburnt grapes are shrivelled on his farm on at Bilbul, near Griffith in the state’s south west.

This season’s yield of chardonnay grapes is so poor it’s cheaper to let them rot on the vine than harvest what remains.

“No matter how much you water, the heat just dries them up,” Gribble said.

The heatwave searing south-eastern Australia has damaged the country’s major inland wine-growing areas in NSW, Victoria and South Australia, and may result in shortages of some varieties.

“There are inevitably going to be losses,” Wine Grape Growers Australia executive director Lawrie Stanford said.

In the Riverina – the state’s largest grape-growing region – the heat has been the killing blow, destroying the equivalent of 45 million bottles of wine.

On Gribble’s farm barely 50 tonnes of Chardonnay grapes – a sixth of his normal yield – have survived the battering.

First from black frosts, then hail and now severe heat.

The fate is worse for his Semillon because of declining demand and prices.

Nearby, an excavator rips the vines from the dry, cracked soil and stacks them like funeral pyres.

Gribble, wearing a broad brown hat, shirt and faded blue shorts will replant with more popular red varieties, which are hardier in the heat.

“Not a good day,” he said, watching the excavator work.

“This is the new bottom.”

Saturday’s sun brought the sixth straight day with temperatures of more than 40 degrees in Griffith.

The temperature hit 43 degrees on Thursday and Friday – 10 degrees above average.

The heat melts the bitumen.

Children cool off in murky irrigation channels.

Harvesters strip grapes from vines at night under a full moon, when there is respite.

Black frosts last October destroyed up to a third – or 100,000 tonnes – of crops in the Riverina.

The cold snap stunted the vine canopy, leaving grapes little shelter from the summer sun.

Vines simply shut down in extreme heat.

Last week’s high temperatures could ruin a further 15 per cent of the crop, said grape grower and Griffith mayor John Dal Broi.

“Some berries will just shrivel up to nothing,” he said.

The cost is compounded by wineries lowering prices for grapes.

Some farmers struggle to pay loans or council rates.

Some have replaced vines with almond trees.

Others can’t afford to switch, instead quitting the farm and leaving the vines to rot.

The abandoned crops are like ghost towns.

“Farmers are doing it tough,” Dal Broi said.

“I go to grower meetings and see depression and desperation and utter dismay, because they don’t know how to get out of the hole they are in.”

But Gribble won’t quit.

“It is my business, my home, my lifestyle and my emotion,” he added.

“Heat is one of those things you have to deal with.

“You have to laugh because what else are you going to do?”

For the original article, visit www.smh.com.au/environment/weather/heatwave-grape-growers-watch-their-fortunes-wither-20140117-310gl.html

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