Wildfires Destroy South African Vineyards, Contaminate Grapes

  • About 2,800 hectares of land burnt, fires now under control
  • Fires unlikely to have marked impact on size of grape harvest

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

“Since Tuesday about 2,800 hectares (6,919 acres) of land has been burnt,” James-Brent Styan, a spokesman for the Western Cape provincial environmental affairs ministry, said by phone 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.

South Africa is the world’s seventh-biggest wine producer and its largest international customers include the U.K., 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 South Africa. Vineyards are mostly concentrated in the Western Cape and the industry employs about 300,000 people.

"About 20 percent of our sauvignon blanc grapes have been burnt and the edges of our chardonnay vines have been damaged," Charlotte Terblanche, a spokeswoman for the Delheim wine estate in Stellenbosch, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) east of Cape Town, said by phone on Friday. “The forest near our estate has been completely destroyed."

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

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