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Great Eastern Wine Week, 9-18 September 2022

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Producers fighting back after fires on Kangaroo Island

The Kangaroo Island fires were this morning officially declared contained after more than three weeks of firefighting by hundreds of volunteers on the South Australian island.

The fire destroyed Southern Ocean Lodge and came within four kilometres of Kangaroo Island Spirits, one of a number of Cygnet River businesses near Kingscote Airport on the Playford Highway.

KIS owners Jon and Sarah Lark were evacuated to Kingscote and also shifted large amounts of stock away from the approaching fire front on January 3, including a number of barrels of the island’s first whisky, which were taken to Penneshaw.

“The whisky is very precious to us because it obviously hasn’t been released yet,” Jon Lark said.

KIS re-opened its cellar door on January 6 and today began producing its first gin since December 20.

“Fortunately we had quite a lot of stock but we didn’t plan on being closed this long,” Lark said.

“We’re all pretty exhausted and the water is pretty bad so we’re having to make gin using cask water at the moment because our rainwater tanks are full of ash and while the mains water is safe to drink, it tastes terrible.”

The Kangaroo Island fires burnt 211,000 hectares – almost half of the island – mainly at its western end.

Ferry companies SeaLink and Kangaroo Island Connect are offering discounted passenger fares from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw to encourage tourists to return to Australia’s third-largest offshore island.

“There’s starting to be a few tourists now but we’re certainly way down on last year. We have a good peak at Easter again and it’s quite possible that we’ll see an even greater surge than we’re used to – let’s hope because the island’s economy certainly needs it,” Lark said.

Spring Road Wines is run by Joch Bosworth and Louise Hemsley-Smith, who also own McLaren Vale winery Battle of Bosworth.

Hemsley-Smith said it was still unclear if their Cygnet River vineyard, planted with shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, would be affected by smoke taint from the fires that passed within a few kilometres.

“Joch’s about to go over to pick some samples and if we get a smoke taint reading back we won’t even bother netting the vines to keep the crows off,” she said.

“At this stage we’re open and we’re just keeping on and waiting to see what’s going to happen but the damage so far has been from a falling off of visitor numbers.

“We only opened the cellar door in December 2018 so we don’t have any long-term figures but it’s definitely been quieter.”

Islander Estate Vineyard suffered significant fire damage to its 12-hectare vineyard but has managed to reopen its cellar door to visitors.

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