Cape fires destroy some vineyards and contaminate grapes

January 23, 2016, 7:25am

A firefighter tries to stop a blaze in Cape Town. Picture: EPA/NIC BOTHMA on Business Day Live  

By Paul Vecchiatto, Bloomberg on Business Day Live

WILDFIRES that have raged for the past four days in SA’s main wine-producing region have destroyed several vineyards, contaminated grapes with smoke and damaged a number of fruit farms.

"Since Tuesday about 2,800ha of land has been burnt," said James-Brent Styan, a spokesman for the Western Cape provincial environmental affairs ministry, on Friday.

The fires have now been brought under control and affected areas are being monitored for flare-ups, he said. A full damage assessment has yet to be done.

SA is the world’s seventh-biggest wine producer and its largest international customers include the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. The country grows white wine grapes, including chenin blanc, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, and its red varieties include pinotage, which was created in SA.

Vineyards are mostly concentrated in the Western Cape and the industry employs about 300,000 people.

"About 20% of our sauvignon blanc grapes have been burnt and the edges of our chardonnay vines have been damaged," said Charlotte Terblanche, a spokeswoman for the Delheim wine estate in Stellenbosch, near Cape Town. "The forest near our estate has been completely destroyed."

While the fires are unlikely to have a significant effect on the size of this year’s grape crop, part of the harvest may be contaminated by smoke, which would change the wine’s flavour, said Edo Heyns, a spokesman for Vinpro, which represents wine exporters.