Mudgee's Huntington Estate has chosen to drop its vintage - for the first time in their 51 year history - due to bushfire smoke taint.
The effect is burnt, smoky or "dirty ash tray" characters in wines. When vineyards are exposed to smoke it can bind with the grape sugars, and while it's "locked away" in the fruit and can't be tasted in that form, during fermentation it's freed and adds the unpleasant flavour.
For some 60 days the Mid-Western Region was blanketed in smoke blown in from bushfires in the south and east. And when the winery got their results back for smoke taint testing by the Australian Wine Research Institute, they made the decision not to compromise the quality of their finished product.
Owner Nicky Stevens said that having made it through the drought and heat, then to have the recent rain arrive at the perfect time, the winery isn't the hive of activity it should be at harvest. Instead the team are out in the vineyard cutting grapes off the vine.
"It's tainted our grapes and we can't pick them, so we're having to drop them onto the ground," she said.
"This affects all of our white grapes, our rosés, our pinot noir, and we've just got the news that it will affect our shiraz as well. To be honest, we're not hopeful of the cabernet either.
"We worked so hard to battle the drought and the heat - and we won the battle. The yields are above average, the fruit is beautiful quality and tastes amazing on the vine.
"But at the last hurdle we've fallen and lost the war. And it's incredibly upsetting, we've spent hundreds-of-thousands of dollars growing the grapes, we've got an incredible team who's worked hard all year, and it's all for nothing."
The grapes can't be left on the vine, and it's not recommended feed for livestock in that form. However, she added, "on the bright side, those grapes that we've dropped will help 2021 vintage be better, because they're putting organic matter back into the soil."
And while Nicky is confident that Huntington is in a position that they'll be able to ride this out, she's concerned about those who may not and the knock-on effect that would occur in the wider local economy.
"There will be a massive impact on the wine industry because of this. Our strategy is to release our red wines at four/five years of age, so we can spread the pain of the reds over that time and we will cope," she said.
"And we've got some good stocks of our whites, so we'll manage, even though it will be tough because we've spent so much in the vineyard. We are relatively lucky, it's some of the smaller guys who will suffer - who rely on contract winemaking or make just enough wine every year to sell and have nothing to fall back on.
"The wine industry is not only an important part of the local economy, but also an important part of the soul and feel of the town, which draws so many visitors and this is a massive knock."
The second impact of the fires came in the reduced tourism during the summer - either being physically unable to cross the mountains or choosing not to because of the perception of smoke and dust. However, with relief from those conditions - and the major fires declared 'out' - she added that now is the time to fly the flag for local wine.
"It's beautiful now, we've had blue skies, the rainfall we've had is making everything green - we are so very open for business," Nicky said.
"There were so many images of dust and drought, with the sky orange and opaque, and people thought 'I'm not going anywhere'. But the truth is it's beautiful here and now more than ever we need to get the message out.
"And we also need locals to continue to support the local wine industry, so go to the cellar doors. If you want to contribute to the local community, there are hundreds of local families that are relying on people buying what is a really beautiful product."