Kangaroos with a taste for pinot noir grapevines have torn through a vineyard in the Canberra wine district, costing the owners more than $80,000.
The annual wine-grape harvest is now nearing completion across the region, and most farmers are hailing the overly dry seasonal conditions as ideal for growing quality fruit.
But Maipenrai Vineyard has been incredibly “unlucky”.
In October 2017, as the grapevines were shooting their first leaves after dormancy, resident kangaroos quickly moved into the vineyards and nibbled the new growth – preventing buds and fruit forming.
“They got hungry,” grower Jenny Gordon said.
“We had had a very, very dry winter and spring and there wasn’t a lot of grass,” she said.
“They have never eaten the vines before. So they got a taste … and they just munched their way through quite happily.”
Ms Gordon said the roos had a taste for what could have been a 5-tonne high-quality crop.
Instead the vineyard picked less than 50 kilograms from the 1.1 hectare vineyard.
“My vineyard would normally make about 4000 bottles of wine at roughly $20 a bottle,” Ms Gordon’s husband Brian Schmidt said.
“That’s $80,000. It is more than I would like to leave on the ground.
“It is a sad day … in that we don’t get to pick in what has been a fantastic vintage.”
Ms Gordon and her husband, the Nobel prize-winning astronomer and Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University, planted their pinot noir vines 18 years ago at the beginning of the millennial drought.
“It is the first time I have ever had kangaroos eat grapes,” Professor Schmidt said.
“Now that they have figured it out it would not surprise me if it happened in the future.”
The couple estimate 200 kangaroos call the 35ha property home, and that simply shooting kangaroos has proven uneconomic in their region.
“For us to shoot them you have to get tags and they will only ever give you 20 tags at a time,” Ms Gordon said.
“And there’s no shooters in this part of NSW that will shoot for meat. So you have to dispose of the bodies, you have to hire an excavator to dig a large pit, you have to hire the excavator back to fill the pit in.”
Ms Gordon said the kangaroo population “had a right to survive”.
“They are an important part of the ecosystem,” she said.
“But what we are doing is providing them with an environment where they thrive and they breed as long as there is food and then they starve to death when there is not food.
The couple believe their only choice is to invest in a kangaroo exclusion fencing at a height of more than two metres around the vineyard – which also does not come cheap.
“Probably in the order of $15,000 to $20,000,” Professor Schmidt said.
“But the alternative is throwing away over $100,000 worth of capital, which is what your vineyard and your trellis and your vines are worth just to put in,” Ms Gordon said.