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Cape Town's Historic Vineyards Threatened by Fire, Smoky Wine

Wednesday, 04 Mar 2015 07:13 AM

Fires raging across Cape Town's South Peninsula are threatening some of the city's historic wine farms, with smoke and heat set to affect crops as wine makers reap the last of the summer harvest.

At least two wine farms in the Constantia Valley, below the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, and one at Noordhoek further south, lost vineyards, said John Loubser, general manager of Steenberg, the city's oldest farm. Winemakers are concerned that smoke may affect unharvested grapes, giving the wine a bitter flavor, he said.

"We got off relatively lightly in terms of damage to property, but the smoke will cause problems," Loubser said by phone from Cape Town on Wednesday. "Any kind of smoke damage is not good. It gives a smoke taint to the vines."

The Constantia valley, about 14 kilometers (nine miles) from the city center of Cape Town, is home to a number of centuries-old wine estates, including Groot Constantia, established in 1684 and noted for sweet wines enjoyed by Napoleon during his six-year exile on Saint Helena island. South Africa is the world's eighth-biggest wine producer, harvesting 1.17 billion liters in 2014, according to Wines of South Africa, an industry body. The first vineyard was planted in the Cape area in 1655.

The fire, which started on March 1, destroyed eight homes and a luxury hotel, and damaged offices of the South African National Parks in Tokai. No lives were lost, though at least 50 people were treated for smoke inhalation, according to city fire authorities.

After burning through indigenous bush on the slopes of Table Mountain, the blaze moved into the Constantia Valley on Wednesday morning, according to Jean-Pierre Smith, the City of Cape Town's mayoral committee member for safety and security

Most of the farms are about two weeks from the end of their harvest, with red-wine varieties such as Shiraz, and some white varieties, still on the vines, Loubser said.

At Buitenverwachting, an 18-century farm in Constantia, fires destroyed a forest and one vineyard, owner Lars Maack said. Thatched roofs on historic buildings in the area are being doused with water to reduce the risk of catching fire, he said.

"Most of the farms around here have scorched vineyards," Maack said by phone on Wednesday. "We're not out of the woods yet. We're focusing now on saving the farm."

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Fires raging across Cape Town's South Peninsula are threatening some of the city's historic wine farms, with smoke and heat set to affect crops as wine makers reap the last of the summer harvest.
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2015-13-04
Wednesday, 04 Mar 2015 07:13 AM
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