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Grapes of Wrath: Spanish farmers recount ‘total destruction’ of vineyards amid wildfires

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Jesus Soto in his fire scorched vineyards in Spain
Jesus Soto in his fire scorched vineyards in Spain   -   Copyright  Reuters
By Maeve Campbell  with Reuters

When Spanish winemaker Jesus Soto returned to his land on Sunday (July 17) for the first time since a wildfire swept through the area last week, the sight of his charred grapevines left him in tears.

He felt as though he had "lost part of my soul", he told Reuters on Thursday.

Soto, with the help of his daughter Belen, a 24 year-old oenologist, has spent more than a decade buying up and revitalising small, ancient vineyards and agricultural land near Cebreros, in the central province of Avila, whose altitude of 700-1100 metres above sea level sees it produce unique wines.

"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 says.

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.

He now must decide how to replant the vineyard 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 explains.

Abandoning the Spanish countryside

Firefighters continued battling wildfires in several Spanish regions on Thursday. The authorities said they were making progress tamping down fires 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.

But, for Soto, the abandonment of Spain's vast countryside by people moving towards its cities is a more pressing problem than climate change.

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.

"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," Soto said.

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.

Watch the video above to learn more about how fires are affecting winemaking in Spain.

Video editor • Isaac Allen