Posted on: February 12, 2019

Risk Management & Insurance in a Challenging Wine Harvest Season

We’ve all experienced some side effects of the recent heatwave across our great state – sleepless nights, occasional power outages as our power grid struggles to keep up with our air conditioners, cars, people and animals overheating and getting sunburned… but did you know grapes could get sunburned, too?

With some record breaking warm weather, there are additional risks that the vines could die or grapes can shrivel prematurely (the cells inside the grape start to die, reducing the grape’s capacity to hold water) or burn in the hot sun.

How grape growers and vineyard managers are reducing their risk

One way the growers help to manage these risks is to grow a good ‘leaf canopy’ (but not so much that the grapes don’t receive enough sunlight) with the right balance of hydration and fertilisation from the start of the growing season.

According to this article from the ABC, other vineyards are using water to mist onto the canopies to cool them down during heatwaves. Overhead shading can have a big impact but it’s also a bigger investment in your risk mitigation.

And some growers are changing the grape varietals to a wide range of Mediterranean grapes that are better suited to a warmer climate and are more drought tolerant.

Water is also a concern, with an increase in careful irrigation of the vines at the end of the growing season, whereas in 20 years ago vineyards in the same location didn’t need to irrigate at all.

Staying across changing harvest conditions

According to grape growers in the Riverina, each year [the harvest] has been coming in earlier. And with higher temperatures, the sugars in the grapes (which determine the alcohol concentration in the eventual product) come in early, too so it can make for a ‘strange season’ while the winemakers balance the taste and the colour.

The vineyard managers are keeping a close eye on the ‘Baume reading,’ taking samples which indicates the amount of sugar. Harvest generally begins when the Baume level reaches 12 Brix, which from the looks of things it already has for quite a number of South Australian winemakers.

Some winemakers have noticed a trend that in the past 20 or so years, the aromas and flavours of wine have remained somewhat consistent but the alcohols have crept up from around 13% to 14% by volume on average. This gives you a slightly sweeter taste and perhaps a richer style of wine (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but important to be aware of!)

Check your insurance safety net

Having the right insurance solution is just as important as doing all you can to prevent incidents from happening in the first place. Some risks are unavoidable, and we’re all human so accidents do happen. We were devastated to hear about some vineyards over in WA that lost an entire season due to a sudden frost, and they didn’t have any insurance in place.

A good insurance broker can tailor a solution that is the right size for your operation, from property and liability to professional indemnity, transit and crop insurance. And don’t just ‘set it and forget it’ – a rigorous insurance solution should always include a review at renewal time to make sure any changes are accounted for.

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