Fires have been running rampant around the Cape winelands since early February and have yet to be completely extinguished.
Stellenbosch, the Hemel en Aarde Valley, Paarl and an area in the north of Swartland have all felt the effects of fierce flames and dense smoke, which have destroyed vegetation and, in some cases, vines. Thankfully, no lives or homes have been lost.
The first fire started in the Jonkershoek Mountains close to the town of Stellenbosch and spread quickly towards Somerset West, where it destroyed forest and vegetation on slopes of the Helderberg and Hottentots Holland Mountains. Here well-known properties including Vergelegen, Morgenster and Lourensford have suffered damage either through fire or smoke.
In the Stellenbosch area itself, both Thelema and Tokara lost a small number of vines when the fire started early February. Thelema’s Thomas Webb confirms the same fire re-appeared close to them a month later, on March 6th but kept to the other side of the road. It also ran riot in other parts of the Jonkershoek, close to Neil Ellis and Le Riche wineries. The haze and smell of fire was easily discernible around Cape Town some 40 miles away.
The blaze in the Hemel en Aarde Valley ran for a short but destructive period mid-February. Kevin Grant of Ataraxia lost a substantial tonnage of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay; a small block of vines were totally burnt.
The mushroom cloud of smoke and flames spewing from Paarl Mountain on March 5th was another dramatic, frightening sight. On the town side, residential properties were under severe threat, while, on the other side, Charles Back and his Fairview team hurriedly made firebreaks and had hoses at the ready. The windless conditions helped ensure no damage to the vineyards where the grapes had been harvested.
Ironically, 2009 looks set to be one of the best wine harvests in years—unfortunately it will no longer be one of the most prolific.