Western Cape vineyards count the cost of fire damage

24 January 2016 - 02:03 By NOMPUMELELO MAGWAZA

For hundreds of Western Cape farmers their harvest could be grapes of wrath after acres of vineyards in Stellenbosch, Overberg, Simonsberg and Kogelberg were this week damaged by raging fires. The costs could run into millions of rands.The Western Cape is South Africa's prime wine-producing region, and the wine belt has some of the world's top winemakers. Veld fires razed close to 4,000ha of land, including vineyards and some orchards.The SA Wine Industry Information & System's 2015 industry statistics report puts the total area under vineyards at 99,463ha, with total wine production reaching 1.18billion litres in 2014. Wine exports accounted for 422.6 million litres.Rob Gower, who owns Ross Gower Wine in the Elgin Valley, lost his entire 8ha vineyard: "The damage could be more than R4-million. We are still finding more things that have been burnt."It cost up to R400,000 to replant one hectare . Some of his assets were insured, but not the vineyards. It had taken three years to grow his wine grapes - and now he will have to buy in grapes .PJ Geyer of Barton Vineyards in the Overberg region said he had lost about two rows of vineyards. "It is the smoke that I am worried about; the wine might taste like sausage because the smoke clings to the grapes."Geyer would only be able to detect this smoky taste in three months .story_article_left1Thousands of hectares of other vegetation had been lost, as well as livestock. He was hopeful other farmers would help should his vineyards, which produce about 120,000 bottles per annum, run into production problems."We carry each other's pain," Geyer said.Edo Heynes of VinPro, a service organisation for 3,600 South African wine producers and cellar members, said wine estate owners would only know in a few months if the smoke had affected their wine. "We are concerned about the smoke hanging in the air. This could damage grapes and become very costly for farmers," Heynes said.Tru-Cape, the largest fruit producer in South Africa, said it had experienced minimal damage and would meet its local and export orders. MD Roelf Pienaar said damage had been limited because growers had worked together with fire-prevention teams.Farmer Pieter Reuvers said fynbos in the Kogelberg biosphere abutting his farm had burned, but his orchards had been spared."Damage was to vehicles used in fighting the fire, but not our livelihood. We are so grateful to all involved, especially the farmworkers who just arrived to help fight the fires from the middle of the night on Saturday for the next 48 hours ... We've never seen such widespread fire. Despite the hundreds of people involved there were no injuries," he said.Agri-Western Cape CEO Carl Opperman said the fires and extreme heat of the past days would have a negative impact on the region's harvests.It was too early to quantify the damage as an assessment had not yet been done. "Smoke can be problematic, especially when fruit is destined for export."Opperman said two farm sheds and two labourers' houses were reported to have been destroyed, and damage was caused to fences, power cables and irrigation systems. This could affect production.

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