South Africa — Dr Paul Cluver, pioneer of cool climate viticulture in Elgin (the deciduous fruit capital of SA, one hours drive from Cape Town) is making good progress in the Vergelegen Mediclinic in Somerset West this morning after being injured in a New Years Eve fire on his 3500 ha De Rust farm. Paul and son-in-law winemaker Andries Burger were fighting a ferocious bush fire which consumed the fynbos covered mountains on the De Rust and neighbouring Oak Valley farms when a wind shift sent the 2m tall flames in his direction at about 3pm. He dived and rolled reported Jacqueline Harris but sustained third degree burns over 20% of his body, mainly to his arms and chest. Son Paul Cluver IV, who was skiing with his fiancée Alexandra in the Alps at the time, has abandoned his skis and arrives in Cape Town at 6am tomorrow.
The fire was believed to have been started by an arsonist (since apprehended) on the Bot River side of the Groenlandberg. It is ironic that two producers who have done so much to preserve the threatened renosterveld in their patrimony, should pay the price of conserving fynbos fire, which plays a crucial role in seed dispersal and germination. Oak Valley won the inaugural Nedbank Green Wine Award two months ago and I was enjoying a bottle of their soft but steely Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (made in the Cluver cellar) last night, little knowing that the man who brought the grape vine to Elgin, was recovering after an operation for his burns in Somerset West as I was enjoying the fruits of his vision.
The fire is now under control. It was stopped 100m above the highest Cluver Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir vineyards. The strength of the South Easter, which blew the smoke towards Somerset West, was such that it is hoped smoke will have minimal affect on the 2010 vintage.