Aftermath of the Simonsberg Fire – Smoke Taint in Wine Explained

Enormous flames and volumes of smoke consumed the region of Stellenbosch a few weeks back. The nightmare commenced so quickly, it was like a horror show that played off in front of you — terrible to behold. The wildfire started on the south-westerly side of the Simonsberg (on Tuesday, 19 January) and spread across most of the mountain, destroying all in its way. Several well-known wine estates’ vineyards were damaged; which included Thelema, Uitkyk, Kanonkop, Zorgvliet and Rustenburg — please do consider supporting these wine estates by buying their wine. The fire was only contained three days later after the destruction of more than 2800 hectares of vegetation, forest and vineyards; noted as the most serious and destructive fire that had touched this area.

How does this affect this year’s harvest?

Well, this means that there will be even smaller crops, since severe drought led to an already low harvest. A big step would be to restore irrigation systems and properly irrigate affected vineyards to salvage and save as much of the vineyards as possible. The biggest concern, however, is the impact of the smoke to the grapes.

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Photo by Justin Sullivan – www.sullivanphotography.org #SimonsbergFire

How does smoke from wildfires influence the grapes?

The grapes are very sensitive to smoke, especially red grapes, where the skin is being used in the wine making process. The smoke can potentially infuse and create abnormal flavours in the wine. Wines produced from smoke exposed grapes can exhibit aromas and flavours resembling smoked meat, disinfectant, leather, salami and even ashtrays or ash. The taste makes the wine “unpalatable”, which means an even bigger loss for wine farms. But even with the disaster, farmers remain positive: “Majority of our grapes are still very young, and the chances of smoke taint damage remains small,” said Bernard le Roux, Winemaker at Zorgvliet Wines. 

Praise to the incredible community! Everyone jumped in — neighbors, farm workers and even dedicated wine drinkers — supported the firefighters (more than 100) to extinguish the blaze. Special thanks to these amazing heroes @VWSFires that fought vigilantly until the end. Feel free to send them any donation, no matter how small, in support of their true heroic efforts, you can support them by once-off or regular donations: www.vws.org.za.

Justin Sullivan took the most amazing photos in the most dire of situations. Have a look on his Facebook page, and see the firefighters in action during the wildfire – Simonsberg Fire: Efforts of a Volunteer Fire Crew 

justin sullivan

Justin Sullivan’s amazing photos during the Simonsberg Fire

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