Ah, summer – what a glorious season! The sun’s warmth, the long days, and the lazy evenings make it the perfect time to relax and unwind … but … the risk of bushfires increases.

The Valley – that’s the Coal River Valley to those that aren’t local – is a hub of activity during this time of the year. It’s home to some of Tasmania’s finest vineyards and cellar doors. It’s now that the winemakers are starting their waiting game to make the call on when to pick in preparation for the upcoming vintage. For the past few weeks, I’ve been watching the tractors, with their wide-arm attachments, going up and down the vineyard rows, spreading nets four rows at a time to protect the grapes. 

The time of the year has reminded me of some photos I snapped with my telescopic DSLR camera in January last year.  As usual, I was busy in the Aquila gardens when I heard the unmistakable sound of helicopters in the distance.  I’d been smelling smoke for some time.  Before I knew it, three large helicopters appeared in a triangle formation right above me.  They were on a mission to fill their helibuckets with water from the dams below Aquila, which irrigate the vineyards. It was a remarkable sight to see each helicopter hover over the dam and scoop up water with its bucket before flying off towards Campania, where clearly an out-of-control blaze was burning.

Jason and I know several vineyard owners in that area. While I was excited to watch and photograph the helicopters, my concern for our friends grew as I quickly remembered the damage that the smoke from a fire can do to the grapes. A few years ago, in the Huon Valley, the entire vintage from many small vineyards was destroyed due to smoke exposure. Smoke taint can significantly affect the quality and flavour of wine, even from distant fires. Tasmania is known for producing high-quality cool climate wines, and any risk to our grape production could have long-lasting and devastating consequences for so many people. I am grateful for the amazing helicopter pilots I witnessed that day.  They protected our vineyard friends further down the Valley from enormous loss on that hot January day in 2023.