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In Cerbère, only vines came out unscathed after extensive bush fires

By Vitisphere April 25, 2023
In Cerbère, only vines came out unscathed after extensive bush fires
In the now lunar landscape of Cerbère on the border with Spain, bearing vineyards are the only remaining islands of green. - crédit photo : Romuald Péronne

orest fires that broke out on April 16 along the Vermilion coast in the South of France, near the Spanish border, destroyed at least 950 hectares of vegetation.

The first major fires of the year, which are now under control, left only vines standing. “The remainder of village acreage has been virtually entirely destroyed”, said winegrower Romuald Péronne. “The only glimmer of hope in this tragedy is that aside from a few vines on the edges of vineyards, all the other bearing vineyards are still intact. Our appellation area burned, but not our vines. This is the only green you can see in an otherwise lunar landscape. Winegrowers will only lose about 1 or maybe 2% of their crop”.

As he toured around the area after the fires, the chairman of the Collioure-Banyuls appellation organisation discovered old vineyard blocks that had been mothballed and covered in moorland over the years. “Now we can see the old dry-stone walls typical of local vineyards that have been burnt along three-quarters of the fire’s route. If our wine industry was stronger, we could be content with having the chance to plant vines on the 1,000 hectares of cleared land”, says Péronne, referring to agricultural land being abandoned as the cause of the damage. “Drought increases the risk of fires starting but if vines had been planted, there would have been no more than 20 hectares burnt”.

The one hundred or so bearing hectares in the village are still standing, but there are too few of them and they are too widely distributed to act as a proper fire barrier”, he laments, insisting that the best way to prevent forest fires would be to farm the hillsides again.

Whether the fire was started by an arsonist, a barbecue or a spark from a strimmer, one thing is certain and that is, if nothing is done, we will have another forest fire in five years’ time, just like the one we had five years ago and now today”, warns Péronne.


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