Wildfire leaves sense of ‘total destruction,’ Spanish winemaker says

Jesus Soto checks his vineyard after it was partially scorched by a wildfire near Cebreros in the province of Avila, Spain, July 21, 2022. — REUTERS/BORJA SUAREZ

CEBREROS, Spain — When Spanish winemaker Jesus Soto returned to his land for the first time since a wildfire swept through the area, the sight of his charred grapevines left him in tears and feeling as though he had “lost part of my soul,” he said last Thursday.

With one of his vineyards — co-owned by former Spanish and former Manchester City midfielder David Silva —  gutted by flames, the owner of the SotoManrique wine label estimates he will only manage half of his habitual production of 3,000 bottles of Alto de la Estrella this year.

Mr. Soto, with the help of his daughter Belen Soto Manrique, 24, has spent more than a decade buying up and revitalizing small, ancient vineyards near Cebreros, in the central province of Avila, whose altitude of 700-1100 meters gives the wines their character.

“A fire is always terrifying because it kills everything around it and the feeling is just awful. The feeling, the smoke, the smell … There’s a sense of total destruction,” he told Reuters.

He now must decide how to reinvigorate the vineyard — covering just over one of his 20 acres —  and recover its soil, and worries about the potential impact on the quality of the wines he can produce this year.

“Everything that happens during a year in nature ends up affecting the wine,” he said.

Firefighters continued battling wildfires in several Spanish regions on Thursday. The authorities said they were making progress but were struggling with some complex conditions. In Cebreros, their efforts were being hampered by shifting winds.

Scientists say heatwaves that have spread across Europe in the past week and caused wildfires around the region are stark evidence of climate change.

Mr. Soto, 52, said that the abandonment of Spain’s vast countryside by people moving towards its cities was a more pressing problem than climate change.

“We always remember about climate change when something happens, but right now here and in many parts of Spain the big problem is the neglect of the countryside,” Mr. Soto said.

Scientists say increasingly dense vegetation in the Mediterranean belt is proving more fuel for the fires, while charities including the World Wildlife Fund and BirdLife met the Spanish government on Thursday to call for a shift in focus from firefighting to prevention and forestry management.

So far this year 90,000 hectares have been burnt across the country, including 20,000 hectares in the past week’s heatwave — an area slightly bigger than New York City. Spain is already experiencing the worst year for wildfires in a decade. — Reuters