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South African wine estates battle to save vineyards from fires

Wildfires near to Cape Town have threatened to engulf some of South Africa’s oldest vineyards, forcing winery owners and staff to sacrifice sleep to protect their estates.

Image credit: Getty / Anadolu

Soaring temperatures – up to 48 degrees Celsius – and dry conditions have fuelled some of the worst wildfires that Cape Town area has known in recent memory.

As well as the threat to lives and homes, there were local media reports in South Africa of scorched vineyards. The extent of the damage was not immediately clear.

Several wine estates told of their struggle to stop the fires spreading to their land.

‘Our team worked solid for 30 hours,’ said Buitenverwachting, which has had vines for nearly 200 years, in a Facebook post. Its workers started the day by harvesting Viognier grapes. ‘From 4pm we had to battle the fires and [were] on top of things at around 2am.’

Helicopters dumped water from the estate’s dam on to fires, while local farmers and residents have been dousing thatched roofs with water in an effort to stop flames from taking hold. One of the problems volunteers and firefighters face is the ability of wildfires to spread so quickly, as shown by the video below – shot over a two-hour period by Jason Aldridge at Lakeside, Cape Town, this week.

Groot Constantia, established in 1684, has also been tackling blazes on its estate. ‘Some of our staff have not slept in 24 hours,’ said the wine group. It told Decanter.com that all was well and the fire had been contained in a forest near to its buildings.

Several producers raised concerns about smoke taint affecting vineyards. But, others said it was fortunate that South Africa has had one of its earliest starts to a grape harvest for many years, meaning a significant amount of fruit had been picked.

Trade body Wines of South Africa said it was monitoring the situation closely.

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Written by Chris Mercer

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