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Update – South Africa fire damages 300 year old Vergelegen wine estate

A wildfire near to Cape Town in South Africa has damaged up to 40% of the Vergelegen wine estate, but fire crews and staff managed to save the main buildings and much of the vineyards.

Firefighters worked through the night in shifts to try to contain wildfires in South Africa’s Somerset West area near Cape Town.

They fought a particularly fierce battle against flames on the historic Vergelegen wine estate, which dates back to 1700 and is regularly named as among South Africa’s best wineries.

Times Live footage of the Somserset West fire

Fire was estimated to have affected around 40% of land at Vergelegen before it was contained. Some vineyards were damaged, but much of the fire burned on conservation area land.

Early signs suggested that the overall damage might not be as bad as first feared.

Don Tooth, Vergelegen’s MD, told Decanter.com on Monday 9 January: ‘Vergelegen currently have an independent viticultural team assessing the damage to vineyards and we estimate approximately 10% could be affected. Options for remedial action and replacement strategies will be considered.

‘With regard to smoke taint, this is highly improbable given that we are around four weeks away from harvest and having viewed extensive scientific material on the subject, it is unlikely that there would be any smoke taint.

‘That aside, we will be working closely with the Department of Viticulture & Oenology at Stellenbosch University to verify this.’

‘Thank you for all your messages of support,’ the Vergelegen team said on Twitter late last week. ‘The fire is now contained and we’re open for business as usual.’

The estate said that its visitor centre and restaurant were not affected and were open as normal. No buildings were damaged.

Smoke taint is a secondary concern once a fire has been contained, but this is not usually such a big issue unless it is very late in the growing season and the grapes have gone through veraison – changed colour.

Vergelegen is no stranger to the dangers of wildfires. In 2009, it suffered up to £1 million worth of damage from fires in its vineyards.

Updated 9/01/2017 with comments from Don Tooth.

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