The best way to help businesses affected by the fires is buy their products

The current bushfire season has sharply brought into focus the human and agricultural inputs behind our favourite beers, wines and spirits.

Drinks producers across the country have been among the businesses worst affected by the crisis, and we consumers have a vital role to play in helping them get back on their feet.

Time is money

While fundraisers and government assistance are both imperative, it will take some time for these funds to be distributed among affected business.

"They always talk about the mental health impacts of these situations," says David Bowley, founder of Adelaide Hills wine company Vinteloper.

"We're four days away from it being a month since this happened, and I've seen no assistance of any real substance. It's starting to wear thin."

Crippling losses

Vinteloper is among 19 wineries and 63 grape growers in the Adelaide Hills that were impacted by the Cudlee Creek bushfire that tore through the region on December 20.

Around one third of the region's grape production is expected to have been wiped out by the fires.

Bowley's Vinteloper lost its entire 2020 crop, and all the revenue associated with it.

"Almost all of the costs of growing that crop have been incurred. The cost of all the additional extra work we've been put into that vineyard since I bought it two years ago have been basically wasted," he says.


"We won't get a crop in 2021 or 2022 or 2023 or 2024, and maybe not in 2025 – that's something that people who are outside of the wine game probably don't recognise.

"Grape vines take years to mature, they take years to get in balance. This is going to be the longest hangover I've ever had."

Straight to the source

Bowley says the only financial support so far has come in the form of direct wine sales thanks to initiatives such as Spend With Them, which aims to assist in rebuilding towns and businesses affected by fire.

"They directed people to buy wine directly from us. That's kept us going and kept me getting out of bed," he says.

"That still is the number one way for people to help. People can jump on our website and buy wine if they're interstate, or if they're locals here in South Australia, they can come visit us at our cellar door, which is in an unaffected part of the Adelaide Hills."

Grassroots assistance

Bowley says it is also crucial for the public to support the grape growers that have lost everything, by donating to the official Adelaide Hills Wine Region Fire Appeal.

"Those grape growers don't have wineries and websites where people can go online and buy their wine to support them," he says.

"In a way, we're fortunate because we can get direct support from the public, where those people can't."

Raise a glass in support

Tumbarumba, NSW wineries Obsession Wines, Johansen Wines and Courabyra Wines have also experienced major losses as a result of the fires and one of the easiest ways you can support them also benefits you - buy their wine.

The fires have also had a range of impacts on breweries and distilleries that have been unable to trade over the busiest period of the year.

Australian craft spirits distributor Nip of Courage has set up The Community Spirit fundraiser in partnership with industry body Spirits & Cocktails Australia, which has purchased $100,000 worth of stock from distillers who have faced hardship.

The purchased products will then be redistributed by Nip of Courage as donations to a range of industry bushfire fundraisers.

Help from the hip

Nip of Courage founder Kathleen Davies says the public can also support the seven affected distilleries by purchasing a bottle or two of their spirits.

"Retail sales are really helpful because it puts money directly in their kitty, straight away," she says.

Impacted distilleries include Reed & Co in Bright, Victoria, where founders Hamish Nugent and Rachel Reed have lost all the revenue from their cellar door, restaurant and bar.

"They've got a newborn baby and they've been evacuated and forced to close down, but they're still paying their staff out of their own personal savings, because they need to hold on to them," she says.

"What people don't realise is how difficult it is finding employees in the regions. You can't just put a 'for hire' sign out there and get thousands of people applying for a job.

"There's all these little things that people don't realise are happening behind the scenes."

Come on down

King River Brewing Company in Victoria's King Valley will reopen for trade this weekend having been closed for the last fortnight due to fires in the area.

"Our taproom accounts for somewhere between 60 and 70 per cent of our revenue, and this is our busiest time of year. It's a big chunk of what keeps us going," says brewery co-founder Nathan Munt.

He says it is vital that consumers return to affected regions as soon as it is safe to do so, and spend up on food, drink and accommodation.

"We have local businesses that buy our beer that are suffering just as much as we are," he says.

The Beers for Bushfire Relief initiative aims to raise awareness of affected breweries, with Saturday January 18 declared a national day of fundraising for the country's firefighters and affected communities.

Resilient brews

Drinkers should also seek out the Resilience Beer soon to be appearing in brewery taprooms and venues across the country.

Breweries both in Australia and internationally have been urged to brew the Resilience Beer, an open source pale ale that will be sold to raise funds for bushfire relief efforts in Australia.

The Resilience name was first used in this manner by American brewer Sierra Nevada in the wake of the California in late 2018. More than 1,400 US brewers brewed their version of the Resilience IPA, raising millions.