Major South African wineries caught up in wild fires in Somerset West

Major South African wineries caught up in wild fires in Somerset West

South Africa’s winelands have been hit again by a series of wildfires that has caused damage to major wineries including Vergelegen, Morgenster, Lourensford and Waterkloof.

The fires have already caused some serious damage to vines, but the full consequences won’t be known until they have had a full assessment from viticulture experts. The fire broke on January 2 and firefighters had to try and bring them under control as they swept across the Helderberg mountains in the country’s Somerset West region. The fires were brought under control by the end of last week.

“The situation is still very fluid but the latest reports suggest that the fire is contained and helicopters have been distributing water on affected areas as well as smouldering parts of land,” said Wines of South Africa.

Amongst the worst affected vineyards was Vergelegen which suffered damage to up to 40% of its estate. The only saving grace being a lot of that damage was to the estate’s land and not its prized vineyards with only an estimated 10% of vines affected from the 1,200 hectares thought to have been damaged by fire. It is now working with viticulturists to assess the damage but is confident that the fire will not have caused smoke taint damage to the grapes as it is still some weeks from the beginning of the South African wine harvest.

Don Tooth, Vergelegen’s managing director told “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.”

He added: “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. We will be working closely with the Department of Viticulture & Oenology at Stellenbosch University to verify this.”

Back in 2009 Vergelegen suffered up to £1m worth of damage from fires in its vineyards.

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

Meanwhile at Waterkloof only two blocks of vines were affected, though the full extent of the fire damage has yet to be assessed.

Morgenster experienced some damage to some of its higher lying olive groves and vineyards on the mounts where the team is working with fire fighters to control the situations.

Lourenseford has escaped relatively unscathed, other than some smoke damage.

“They were fully prepared and had several teams on standby to deal with it,” said Wines of South Africa.   Wildfires are a common occurrence in South Africa during the hot and windy summer months.

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