Fire and smoke in Stellenbosch – but let’s feel for Australia

Serious damage has already been done by fire in the Stellenbosch area, particularly during the heatwave that arrived last Friday – after a cool pre-harvest season in most areas that has ensured that picking will be done at least a week or two later than normal this year.

But at least one vineyard at Tokara on the Helshoogte in Stellenbosch will not be picked at all this year: over the weekend it was burnt to its roots. I do not have details as yet, but can imagine that some other neighbouring vineyards will be severely affected by smoke from the raging fires. In 2000, the terrible fires in the Constantia region lived on in at least some smoke-tainted wines. Recent fires in the Jonkershoek Valley have reportedly also made some winefarmers there very worried.

Sad though this all is – and one feels a great deal for Tokara, who have put such effort into their vineyards, with such promising results – it is insignificant, of course, compared with the terrible fires in parts of Australia. It’s been another year of drought in much of Australia too – of all the wine-producing countries Australia seems to have suffered most (so far!) from the effects of climate change.

With the current hellish plague of fires wreaking widespread terror, death and destruction, the loss of vineyards is not the worst, but those in the Cape winelands will understand the import of the bushfires raging though the Yarra Valley, for example, preceded by 48 degree temperatures and searing winds. Wineries and vineyards have been destroyed. (See, for example, the account on the Australian Wine Review) just one account South Australia and Victoria have been hardest hit, but there are also stories of grapes being burnt by the heat in New South Wales. The glut that some had been fearing, in the light of growing problems for Australian wine in international markets, might well not materialise this year.

It’s very scary stuff – the Western Cape has, on the whole, had quite the opposite of Australia’s recent grim seasons, and we must just hope that the complex effects of climate change will not start affecting us like that. But it’s all very unpredictable and erratic, and we can’t count on our recent luck continuing. Europe, this cold winter, is learning that climate change might not be the simply cheerful thing for them that the superficial have imagined – balancing reduced possibilities for skiing against the prospect of cabernet growing in Gloucestershire sunshine.

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