Severely damaged Murrumbateman vineyards stripped of leaves and fruit in destructive hailstorm

Murrumbateman wineries recovering from two years of low yields due to bushfire smoke and drought were badly damaged by a hailstorm that swept through the area on Monday evening.

Ken Helm of Helm Wines said the storm brought large hailstones and high winds that destroyed at least 80% of the 2022 crop at his vineyard just outside Canberra.

The storm also left thousands of people without power and knocked trees over houses and cars across the capital, causing the most damage west of Belconnen in the north of the city.

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

“Difficult to stay positive”

Ken Helm said winemakers “only get once a year to get a vintage.”(ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

Ken Helm, who started his wine business in 1973, said the hailstones were the size of golf balls and described the storm as a “tornado” as it passed through Murrumbateman.

“We lost at least 80% or more of our crop with hail and tornado,” he said.

“At this time of year you lose all the leaves and the berries are about the size of a pea.

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

“In 2020 we didn’t have any because of the drought and the smoke and last year most of the vineyards were still suffering from the drought so it was a poor harvest,” he said. declared.

“You can’t lose three years of income and not be a little worried. It’s hard to stay positive.”

Helm also had high hopes for this year’s performance, which he said was shaping up to be one of the best in more than 40 years of operation.

“It was going to be a record harvest in the entire district. Speaking for ourselves, we are looking at the biggest harvest we have ever had,” he said.

“And in fact, we’re preparing for that – we were 72 days away from harvest, according to our estimates, and it all came to a rather dramatic halt.

Damaged grapes on the ground.
Damaged grapes are wasted on the ground as winemakers work out their next steps.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

The storm was so powerful it also toppled a row of about 40 trees, Helm said, over 100 years old, not far from the vineyard.

The debris from the trees had made the road impassable.

“The storm was so huge in the wind that the mile drive down Keirs Road coming to our place where there’s a nice tree lined driveway is no more,” he said.

“The residents all got together last night and they worked in the dark, cleaning, [because] we couldn’t actually get out.”

“Incredible damage” in minutes

A man and a woman hold damaged grapes in their hands.
Sarah and John Collingwood of Four Winds Vineyard in Murrumbateman hold their damaged crop after the storm.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

The Four Winds vineyard in Murrumbateman was also damaged by 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 would take much longer to repair.

“It happened incredibly quickly, in just a few 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 a few leaves on the vines but unfortunately they are very jagged and a lot of the fruit has been really bruised.

Ms Collingwood said that 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 the ripening of the grapes, so without the foliage that was stripped by the hail, a lot of the grapes have [also] been damaged,” she said.

“The hail is hitting the little bays that are there right now and doing a bit of damage.

“We still have a few grapes there and we hope to get some out of them, but at this stage it’s really hard to estimate what we’ll get from the vineyard.

She said the big difference before and after the storm was shocking, but they would do anything to save what was left of the grapes.

“The vineyard will need a little TLC just to make sure it doesn’t get any disease from the hail damage.

“We will be in the vineyard to assess and make sure we are taking care of the vines to make sure they are all ready for next season.”

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