Provence Winemakers Return Home to Charred Vines and Fears of Smoke Taint

A wildfire in southern France’s Var region burned 600 acres of vines and exposed another 2,400 to smoke, putting rosé at risk

Provence Winemakers Return Home to Charred Vines and Fears of Smoke Taint
Smoke drifted over thousands of acres of vines, leaving vintners wondering if their grapes will develop smoke taint. (Nicolas Tucat/Getty Images)
Sep 14, 2021

After a devasting wildfire swept through the Var region in Provence, vintners have returned to their estates to survey the damage and proceed with the 2021 harvest where possible. While the majority of the burned landscape—18,000 acres in total—was forest in the Plaine des Maures nature reserve, local wine officials estimate that over 3,000 vineyard acres were impacted by the fires.

"[Approximately] 600 acres of vines were partially damaged by the fire," said Nicolas Garcia, director of the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence (CIVP). "The cloud of smoke flew over 2,400 acres of vineyards." In vineyards surrounded by the burning forest, the rows nearest to the trees burned. The inner rows suffered heat damage and growers will not be able to harvest much of their crop due to concerns over smoke taint.

Around 100 vintners suffered significant crop losses. "At least four domaines suffered damage with buildings that burned down,” said Garcia. “Sheds for materials and equipment also burned down."

Tragically, a few estates lost everything. “Their cellars burned, their house burned, their equipment burned—everything,” said CIVP president Eric Pastorino. “Those in the nature reserve were hit particularly hard.”

Guillaume de Chevron Villette, who has 1,360 acres under vine at Vignobles Chevron Villette and is the region's largest private winegrower, has plots that border the nature reserve. "The fire was impressive," de Chevron Villette told Wine Spectator. "The landscape is terrible now—all of the parasol pines burned."

Firefighters saved his cellars and equipment. But he lost the crop of 74 acres to a combination of smoke taint and fire damage. The rows closest to the forest will need to be replanted. "We produce a high-quality rosé, so the challenge will be to eliminate the risk of smoke taint," said de Chevron Villette.

Charred trees ]
The wildfire mostly burned the trees of the Plaine des Maures nature reserve. (SOPA/Getty)

The nature reserve is a vital enclave of biodiversity in the region, but in this case it also fueled the fire's path. "Half of the Plaine des Maures nature reserve has been devastated," said Concha Agero, deputy director of the French Office of Biodiversity.

A dry summer combined with extreme heat and the Mistral winds left the region particularly vulnerable. Fires have also broken out recently in the Beaumes-de-Venise region of Provence and the Aude region, and more recently in the south of Spain.

Still, vintners remain optimistic about the 2021 crop. For one thing, less than 5 percent of the Côtes de Provence appellation was impacted. "Despite this disaster, I am fairly enthusiastic about this vintage. The level of acidity is interesting," said de Chevron Villette. "July wasn't very hot, then in mid-August we had the heat wave, and then the wildfires. But it's cooler now, the grapes are fresh. We could have a pretty vintage."


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