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Fires near Bordeaux: Liber Pater vineyard evacuated

A fierce forest fire south of Bordeaux has forced the vineyard behind rare wine Liber Pater to be evacuated alongside local communities as a precaution, as the region's wine body salutes fire crews.

Police ordered the evacuation of more local residents in the Landiras area yesterday (Monday 18 July), with Liber Pater’s vineyard in Graves also evacuated as firefighters continued to try to contain a large forest fire that has been burning for the past week.

Fire smoke behind Liber Pater vineyard in Bordeaux

A ‘fog’ of fire smoke behind Liber Pater vines on Tuesday morning (19 July), said owner Loïc Pasquet, who was briefly able to return to the site. Smoke hasn’t been a problem so far, he said. Credit: Loïc Pasquet.

‘The police came this morning (18 July), because the fire was very close and because the wind was very strong,’ said Loïc Pasquet, owner of Liber Pater, which specialises in making small-batch wines from ungrafted vines and reviving rare grape varieties.

There was so far no damage to vines from fire, or problems with smoke, he told Decanter. Bordeaux’s wine council, the CIVB, has also said that no vineyards have been damaged by fire so far.

Yet more than 8,000 people were evacuated from the Landiras area yesterday and the fire has burned 12,800 hectares of land in the Langon district over the past week, the regional government said this morning (19 July).

‘The situation remains very unfavourable,’ it said. ‘Firefighters battled the blaze all night. The fire is likely to progress east with a westerly wind that picked up overnight.’

Another major fire has led to evacuations near Arcachon on the coast, while wildfires have been burning in several parts of Europe over the past week, at a time when temperatures have soared.

Alongside reporting no damage to vines so far, the CIVB said yesterday (Monday 18 July) that the wind direction had also kept smoke away from vines. ‘There is, to date, no fear of the impact of the smoke,’ a spokesperson said.

She added, ‘We extend our support to the many employees and personnel working in the vineyards who live in or near the areas affected by the fires. We also salute all the efforts and work done by the firefighters who are working to control the two fires.’

At Liber Pater, the team destroyed all the grass around the vineyard before leaving, to try to help block the fire’s path. Pasquet said he had been prepared to evacuate, ‘but of course you are not happy to leave your vineyard’. He was able to briefly return to check on the site on Tuesday morning.

Liber Pater’s small-production wines are among the world’s most expensive, but for Pasquet the project represents 25 years of his work to revive rare grape varieties. ‘I don’t want to lose the native varieties of Bordeaux I saved,’ he said.

He said he was a natural optimist but that the fire underlines the urgent need to move more quickly to adapt to, and combat, climate change.

The AOC Sauternes and Barsac wine body posted an image on Instagram of the fire in the distance, and described its sadness at seeing the forest in flames. ‘All the winegrowers of Sauternes and Barsac thank the firefighters and volunteers who fight night and day to save our territory,’ it said.

Decanter understands that winemakers in the Conseil des Vins de Graves & Sauternes discussed the situation at a meeting last night.

This included ways of offering near-term support to anyone affected by the fires but also the importance of long-term strategies to preserve and enhance ecosystems and environmental habitats in the face of global warming, according to a report of the meeting from Séverine Bonnie, of Château Malartic Lagravière.

Bonnie said some individual wineries have been providing emergency relief, such as shelter, food and equipment.

Climate scientists have warned that extreme weather events, including wildfires and drought, are becoming more common.

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