Canberra’s annual celebration of local wineries has returned for the first time in two years, a little damp and battered, but not defeated.
Previously known as the Canberra Wine Week, the 2022 Harvest Festival kicked off on Saturday (2 April), luring locals to partake in wines from our own backyard with wine tastings and music.
Bushfire smoke, COVID-19 restrictions and wet weather have ravaged the local wine industry for the past three years, and Canberra District Wine Industry Association (CDWIA) coordinator Fran Marshall says that, as a result, this year is more “low-key and last-minute”.
“We are doing a pretty low-key celebration this year for a number of reasons, mostly due to our wineries wanting to ensure that restrictions had eased. They had enough staffing and enough pickers, and that the wet weather wasn’t going to ‘dampen’ the festivities,” Fran says.
The 2022 Harvest Festival is “more about inviting our friends and wine lovers back out to the cellar door”.
“With only a few wineries placed to host larger groups and cellar door staffing at a minimum, only a small number of wineries have been able to run events this month.”
The number of participating vineyards is down on previous years but includes Capital Wines, Gundog Estate, Lake George Winery, Murrumbateman Winery, Pankhurst Wines and Four Winds Vineyard.
Four Winds Vineyard owner Sarah Collingwood says they’ll put together hampers and host local musicians until Sunday, 10 April.
Despite the fact their crop was wiped out by a freak hailstorm in January, she says it wasn’t all bad news over the past three years.
“We made a gin in 2020 from some of the smoke-tainted grapes, which has gone really well,” she says.
“Even the pandemic hitting us was an opportunity to vary our business operations, with smaller group sizes, staggered bookings, or seated tastings. We’ve actually continued to do many of those things even as the restrictions have lifted.”
She says the main problem at the moment is the cool, wet weather which is delaying the harvest of the red wine grape varieties.
“We have all our white and rosés, but we haven’t started picking the Shiraz yet. The reds have been delayed, so we’ve got our fingers crossed for a bit of sunshine and warm weather over the next two weeks.”
Border restrictions have also robbed the wineries of their usual picking workforce, usually made up of teams of international tourists looking to get their hands dirty. But even here, help is at hand in the shape of a mechanical harvester, “which has been really useful”.
Sarah says wineries have also banded together to get the job done, “which has been really nice”.
But with the end of the fire season, regional farmers are beginning to light agricultural burns, causing concern among the wineries that their crops may be tainted by smoke again.
“We’re just really asking anyone in the region to delay agricultural burn-offs to May if they can. We would really appreciate it.”
At the end of the day, however, Canberrans definitely won’t be lacking for wine this year.
“It’s been a really good season overall and we got a good harvest, which really recharged our cellars. We’ve also been able to buy some grapes from Hilltops and Tumbarumba and Gundagai, so we are able to make some wine this year.”
For a full list of 2022 Harvest Festival events, visit the Canberra Wines website.