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Major fire poses threat to Stellenbosch vineyards

A fire that has been raging on Simonsberg mountain in South Africa is posing a serious threat to vineyards in Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschoek, local media are reporting.

Fires on Simonsberg mountain encroach on the vineyards of Rustenberg Wines (Photo: Twitter)
Fires on Simonsberg mountain encroach on the vineyards of Rustenberg Wines (Photo: Twitter)

The fire, which has been burning since midday on Tuesday, has spread across 90km of land from Idas Valley, Simondium, to Paarl, with the foothills of the Simonsberg mountain the worst affected area, a spokesperson for Stellenbosch Fire Department said.

Several wineries are known to be fighting the blaze, according to local press reports, including Kanonkop, Uitkyk, Muratie and Rustenberg wine estates. Delheim Estate, Warwick Wine Estate and Tokara Winery are also reported to have been affected.

Around 200 firefighters from various organisations have been working to extinguish the fire, with farmers and their employees also working around the clock to protect their land, crops and buildings.

While the cause of the fire has not yet been confirmed, the Volunteer Wildlife Services said that the consistent hot, dry and windy conditions prevailing around the Western Cape made wildfires the likeliest culprit.

Firefighters were predicting that the fire could continue for several more days.

Deidre Taylor of Kanonkop Wine Estate said the fire is still going on in the vicinity of Kanonkop’s vineyards, some of which, she confirmed, had suffered fire or smoke damage.

“We have had some damage to our Pinotage vineyards, but at this stage its difficult to assess the extent,” she said. 

Fire has devasted the land around Kanonkop's estate. The winery has estimated a potential loss of 50 tonnes of grapes (Photo: Kanonkop)
Fire has devasted the land around Kanonkop’s estate. The winery has estimated a potential loss of 50 tonnes of grapes (Photo: Kanonkop)

“We suspect losses of about 50 tonnes, but this will only be able to be confirmed once we can access the smoke damage as well.

“Our neighbours Uitkyk have been quite badly affected, and its now also burning on Muratie. Most of our team are in the vineyards assisting the fire department where they can.”  

Giles Webb, owner of Thelema Mountain Vineyards, told the local Times Live that the fire had ruined what he had expected to be one of the winery’s best vintages.

“At the end of the December I thought that this year would be one our best vintages. But that idea has gone up in smoke,” he said.

“This is not a good situation. This fire will have a big economic cost. All the vineyards against he mountain were affected,” he added.

André Morgenthal of Wines of South Africa told Times Live that a large section of Delheim Estate’s forest had burnt.

“It’s very bad. But we’re not sure what the impact will be on each brand,” he said.

Conrad Schutte of Vinpro, who works as a viticultural consultant for wineries in the Stellenbosch region, will be visiting affected vineyards tomorrow to asses the extent of the damage the fire has caused so far.

“It’s really hard to say what the extent of the damage is at this stage,” he said.

“Some vineyards have been damaged – from total damage to vineyards to just the side roads of the vineyards being damaged. And then [there are] vineyards that did not get burned but some smoke went into the vineyards, so that might affect some of the grapes with smoke taint, which we need to manage.”

A separate fire broke out in nearby Elgin last week and has since been extinguished. Around 7,000 acres of land are reported to have been damaged, including a vineyard owned by Ross Gower Wines.

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