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Australian winemakers slap sunblock on grapes

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Posted at 3:13 PM, Jan 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-09 15:13:01-05

LONDON (CNNMoney) — The harsh Australian sun can really damage the skin. Grape skin, that is.

Winemakers Down Under are protecting their crop by spraying a special sunscreen on their vines.

“It acts just like putting sunscreen on when you go to the beach,” said Bruce Tyrrell, managing director of Tyrrell’s Wines.

The winery, one of the oldest in Australia, has been protecting its vines in this way for the past couple of years. Yalumba, a winemaker in the Barossa Valley, also uses sunblock to protect its vintages.

It’s easy to spot which grape growers have used the product — it turns the vines blue.

Tyrrell said sunburn has been a problem for fruit “since the dawn of time.” There are natural ways to cut down on harmful rays like planting rows of vines north to south.

The use of sunscreen may alarm some wine lovers. Tyrrell says it leaves “absolutely no residue” on the fruit and doesn’t affect the taste.

A sun-charred grape, however, can leave the wine with an unpleasant burnt sugar character.

Grapes aren’t the only fruit sensitive to fierce ultraviolet rays. Other plants need sunblock too.

Phoenix-based chemical company Tessenderlo Kerley supplies more than 30 countries with products to protect crops such as apples, pears, melons and tomatoes against sunburn.

The firm said it has seen growing demand for its “Surround” sun spray from vineyards in Australia, the world’s seventh largest wine producer.

The country, which just experienced one of its hottest years on record, is known for extreme weather. The impact of climate change — including rising temperatures and sea levels — could make matters worse for a country whose population lives mostly along the coastline.

But Tyrrell isn’t worried that even warmer days will harm his crop. Good farmers adapt, he said.

“Weather runs in cycles. Always has, always will. We as humans affect it at the margin,” Tyrrell added.

In cooler years, the winemaker said he’s even plucked leaves off his vines to give pinot noir grapes more exposure to the sun.