South Africa

Tue 27 Sep 2016

Travellers’ Tales From South Africa

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Never work with children or animals, they say, but Joanna Locke MW and colleague Steve Farrow were obviously quite taken with the latest addition to the Paul Cluver clan and almost as much by Niels Verburg’s inquisitive four-legged friends.

And that’s to say nothing of the wines!

The below is just an extract from the fascinating write-up in our online Travels in Wine™ feature. There is much more to read about in Steve Farrow’s report on his and buyer Jo Locke’s recent trip to the Cape, with insights into our growers, tempting tales of wines tasted and stories by the barrel-load.

Paul Cluver Wines
‘…we met celebrated winemaker Catherine Marshall to taste her wine. It was a very happy meeting. Quite apart from the warm welcome and the cheery banter between the ebullient Paul Cluver IV, his brother-in-law and winemaker Andries Burger, Catherine and Jo Locke, there was the presence of Paul’s baby son Maximilian (so not Paul then?) who won the hearts of everybody. What a smiler! No wonder doting daddy Paul, clearly and beautifully besotted with his son, was cooing and baby-talking with the littl’un throughout, and up and down to check on him when he was put to bed in another room. It seems inconceivable that he won’t find his own niche in this most familial of family-owned companies.

Cathy Marshall and Maximilian CluverCathy Marshall and Maximilian Cluver

…Sadly it was time to take our leave, but not before Jo got to hold the baby. Her beaming smile as she held young Maximilian was a highlight of the trip.’

Luddite Wines
‘Niels Verburg farms close to the Bot River, just outside the town of the same name, where prized grazing land has also shown itself a prime site for vineyards too.

As we pulled up at Niels’ house we were met by several inquisitive dogs, including the irrepressible Doris, a welcoming Jack Russell who we were warned against accidentally taking away with us as she loves to climb into visitor’ cars. Apparently, she will follow anyone who passes by on the road too, and knowing this Niels was well prepared when a fun run was to pass by the gates. He took a washable marker pen and wrote his mobile phone number on Doris’ flank and was unsurprised to find that she was gone at the first sight of runners going by. Sometime later he received a phone call from someone at a stadium several miles away saying that Doris had finished the race and was safe with them. Apparently she made the local news. I got her autograph.’

Soil test pit and curious Doris!Soil test pit and curious Doris!

Read the full report here

Categories : South Africa
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Thu 18 Aug 2016

Waterkloof: A Stunning & Impressive Cape Newcomer

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…Relative newcomer, anyway, the first bottlings from this model ‘Stellenbosch’ (Somerset West) estate being sold from 2005. The elegant surroundings (already busy with Saturday morning visitors enjoying wine tasting and coffee around a roaring fire) made a delightful setting for a tasting of wines from across their range.

Waterkloof's Nadia Barnard Waterkloof’s Nadia Barnard

These included:

• The refined white blend Circle of Life (available for £14.95 in our August Fine Wine List).

• Current and new vintages of Circumstance Cape Coral Mourvèdre Rosé (the 2015 is available for £8.95 in my South African Buyer’s Shortlist offer), a wine that is ideally suited to these southerly-facing, windswept vineyards with stunning views out over False Bay (somewhat lost in fog on our visit!).

Our host was talented young winemaker Nadia Barnard (pictured below with my colleague Steve Farrow) who has responsibility for the impressive cellar and works closely with the vineyard team.

Nadia Barnard and Steve Farrow Waterkloof

We missed visiting the homemade compost and (frankly foul-smelling when I was treated to it on my last visit) biodynamic preparations which are par for the course in this environmentally respectful & friendly ‘biosphere’ of the Cape Winelands!

Nadia may have a very big job for one so young but she has a super-well-equipped, high-tech cellar with plenty of fashionable tools of the trade.

Nadia Barnard with the new wine press

Her pride and joy is this new gentle giant of a press. Several tanks had to be removed to get it in, and Nadia confessed it took some getting used to (high tech does not mean physical hard graft is avoided altogether!) but the results are speaking for themselves.

Look out for Waterkloof, and Boutinot’s other wines here and in the Cape. If you do go, treat yourself to a meal at the restaurant (last experienced last year, and not only good, fresh & imaginative food but good wine matching advice too) and try the fruits of their latest venture: an on-site cheesery!

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

Waterkloof Circle of Life 2013 is available for £14.95 in our August Fine Wine List, alongside several other South African white blends.

Circumstance Cape Coral Mourvèdre Rosé 2015 is available for £8.95 in the current South African Buyer’s Shortlist offer).

Categories : South Africa
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Wed 01 Jun 2016

Postcards From Stellenbosch

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Kanonkop is an essential stop on any visit to Stellenbosch, even more important now they are supplying our Exhibition Pinotage, which returns this autumn.

Kanonkop’s Paul Sauer – named after the Kriges’ grandfather – is one of the Cape’s best-known Bordeaux-style blends. Look out for the mature 2008 coming in July and impressive 2009 in our August Fine Wine List.

Kanonkop Paul Sauer

This handsome selection appears in the refurbished tasting room on the estate. There is now a small gallery of local art, as well as cheese platters to order & BYO picnic opportunity for summer visitors.

Warwick Estate
The now super-fashionable Land Rover Defender (always iconic, now sadly no longer being produced) has long been the wine farm’s vehicle of choice. Warwick has adapted two for its Wine Safaris which offer a great (if bumpy!) way of visiting the vineyards.

Warwick Estate Safari

Hopefully the experience will not cause you to call on your travel insurance, and I suspect small children would not be allowed, but there’s a play area to cater for them too. Also note these do require booking in advance. Warwick really has thought of everything.

Warwick's Mike Ratcliffe and my colleague Steve FarrowWarwick’s Mike Ratcliffe and my colleague Steve Farrow

The weather was more autumnal on our visit but we did not miss the opportunity for spectacular views and a brief tutorial on the Simonsberg-Stellenbosch ward (appellation), which is home to some of the Cape’s top producers of Bordeaux grapes.

Look out for more on this buying trip soon on Travels In Wine.

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

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Fri 04 Dec 2015

Painted Wolf: Cape Wines With a Conscience

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African Wild Dogs, also known as Cape Hunting Dogs, Painted Dogs or Painted Wolves are canids, but are only distantly related to domestic dogs and wolves due to a split in the evolutionary tree about 3 million years ago.

It may seem strange to create a wine company and develop a range of wines based on an animal like the African Wild Dog, but they have many characteristics that I admire and appreciate. They are charismatic, fierce, compassionate, organised, altruistic, fun loving, energetic and sadly highly endangered.

It is a bit of a tale, or should we say a tail…

Jeremy & Emma BorgJeremy & Emma Borg

I was born in South Africa, grew up in Malawi and at 10 years old, was sent to boarding school in the bush in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). This was a special place for a young fellow to grow up. I loved to be out in the bush and was lucky enough to attend a school where we had the freedom to explore whenever we were not engaged in other compulsory activities. I spent countless hours fishing, exploring and looking for snakes to catch. Our family loved to spend holidays in game reserves and I grew up loving the bush, nature and the wildlife of Africa.

I left Africa when I was 18 to attend university in UK. At that time I was strongly averse to the political situation in South Africa, where my family was now living. I therefore only returned to visit three times in the 16 years I lived abroad.

I moved from UK to the USA, had a career as a chef and then had moved into wine. At the end of 1994 I came out to South Africa to work the harvest in the Cape, fully intending to go back to California to my cellar job and viticulture course. A massive curveball was tossed in my direction when my wildlife-filmmaking sister Amanda met Emma (my wife) and her employers, Lloyd and June Wilmot. Lloyd’s Camp in Savuti Botswana was looking for a cook and my sister suggested that I would be a good candidate for the job. By accepting this job and going to work in Botswana, I realised that I had always felt slightly alien in the USA.

But back in the bush, I was home… Africa had reclaimed me.

Life took on a very different complexion and I was transported back into the space which had made my teen years so exciting and adventurous. I worked closely with Emma, and we were able to go out into the bush almost every day, spending hours in nature, watching wild animals or playing with Lloyd and June’s children.

'Pedals4Paws': a fundraising bike ride in Africa, 2013‘Pedals4Paws’: a fundraising bike ride in Africa, 2013

A favourite game was “bush cricket”: we would use any handy piece of wood (usually a tree branch) for a bat, and dried out elephant dung as our ball. There was always a supply handy and we never had to worry about losing any expensive sports kit.

It was during one of these afternoon cricket games, played on a particularly good wicket at a spot called Harvey Pan where we had an intimate and interesting wild dog encounter. I was bowling to Alistair who was about 5 years old at that time and was startled to see three wild dogs run past me and within a yard or two of Alistair, paying no attention to him at all (which was fortunate). Within a few seconds a female kudu ran past followed by a number of other dogs. We rushed to our Land Rover and followed the hunt. The level of co-operation amongst pack members as they course and dispatch their prey is amazing. They chased the tiring kudu into a muddy pan where she stood her ground. The mud was thick but not too deep and the dogs waded in, up to their bellies. As they closed in on her, the kudu kicked our frantically with one of her back legs, connecting with a dog. This violent blow sent the dog cart wheeling away. A kudu is roughly 5 -6 times the weight of a dog. We were amazed to see a number of pack members break away from the attack and rally around the injured dog twittering (which is the name of their main call) and muzzle-rubbing it. One lone dog, probably the alpha male, was left to stare down the kudu and keep her occupied till the rest of the pack returned. The kudu was soon dispatched and hastily eaten by the 15 or 16 dogs in the pack.

The co-operation and organisation displayed by these dogs was impressive, but it was that instinct to care for an injured individual that stayed with us. It makes them very rare in the animal world, especially amongst predators.

Wild dog relocation to Somkhanda reserveWild dog relocation to Somkhanda reserve

Wild Dogs are very effective hunters with seven out of ten hunts ending in success (lions, by comparison, are only successful three times out of every ten attempts). Their communication is very highly developed, using vocalisation, vision and smell as tools to convey meaning. Within the dens, only the alpha male and alpha female produce puppies, but all of the young are raised and nurtured by the whole pack, which means that life in the den is geared towards the survival of the pack as a single entity. This co-operative social structure makes for a very relaxed and congenial den life.

In spite of their hunting prowess and social proficiency, Wild Dogs are highly endangered. In fact, only one African carnivore is more endangered: the Ethiopian Wolf. The whole Wild Dog population in Africa is under 6,000 dogs, split into fragmented populations. Very few countries have truly sustainable Wild Dog populations, and their numbers are slowly slipping away.

South Africa had roughly 400 dogs left. They were once prolific throughout South Africa. The Kruger Park, an area the size of Wales, only supports 200 or so dogs. When the area making up the park was first hunted by white people in the mid to late 1800s the Wild Dog population was huge. A bounty was put on Wild Dogs and they were shot to the point of virtual extinction, and they have never recovered those numbers.

Wild Dogs need space, the more pristine the better. Management strategies that benefit dogs are those best suited to the sustainable conservation of an area. An area the size of greater London (with a normal density of antelope and other prey species) could support a lion population of 300, but only 30 wild dogs.

wild dogs stomping grapes

When Emma and I decided to start our wine company, back in 2007, we made a commitment to support conservation as well. While considering what to call our label, we thought back on all the wonderful Wild Dog encounters we had had in Botswana and how much we admired them, and the decision was made.

Our admiration of their co-operation and social structure was turned into a working model for the company. We work as a pack. As the alpha pair we lead the pack, but every other pack member works with us for the long term flourishing of the whole pack. Each pack member is as unique as each Wild Dog. They sport completely different markings on their painted coats, our pack members each contribute completely different talents, strengths and abilities. The only difference is that we lack the huge ears, prefer to savour our food, especially if it’s accompanied by one of our wines.

We endeavour to make wines that are as interesting and individual as the Wild Dogs that they are named after. Our population of enthusiastic fans is growing which is fortunate, because we are hoping that our donations from sales will help to stop the depletion of Wild Dog ranges and populations and put more paws on the ground in the bush.

Jeremy Borg
Painted Wolf Wines

Find Jeremy and Emma’s wines here

Categories : South Africa
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Fri 23 Oct 2015

South Africa: Keeping Up With The Joneses

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Janet Wynne Evans finds pots of pure gold at the end of the Rainbow Nation tasting…

Some of the delicacies prepared by Roger Jones.Some of the delicacies prepared by Roger Jones.

Last week, I attended an extraordinary wine tasting at South Africa House. I fully expected to taste great wines. What I didn’t expect was to have one of my founding food-and-wine matching principles shaken to the core.

As with all big, generic tastings, I had plotted my agenda, which was Western Cape blends. These innovative combinations – chenin, chardonnay, roussanne, grenache, viognier and semillon for whites and syrah, touriga nacional, grenache, mourvèdre for the reds – are godsends for a food obsessive. The whites, in particular, quite simply go with everything I throw at them, from garlicky to Gujarati. What I can’t throw, having neither the skill nor the imagination, not to mention the training, are the gastronomic and the gourmet.

With sustaining solids provided by my compatriot, Michelin-starred chef Roger Jones, what better opportunity to complete the set?

Lest fellow members deplore the kind of lifestyle we appear to enjoy in the wine trade, may I also point out that this event was also open to retail consumers in the evening? The 800-plus canapés Roger had painstakingly prepared were testament to that.

The wine list at Roger’s destination Wiltshire restaurant, The Harrow in Little Bedwyn, is famous in the business for championing the new world. It’s also famous for ungreedy mark-ups. An example I’d cite is Australia’s iconic Giaconda Chardonnay – a me-too Montrachet if ever there was one – which is offered at not much more than you’d pay at a top-end retailer. The bottom end would never have heard of it.

At the ‘South African Flavour’ matching seminar that concluded my visit to the tasting, the first of many surprises for me was that no blends were included. Lined up before us were six monovarietals of the kind the Rainbow Nation does best, selected to complement Roger’s inspirations by Fiona Beckett of The Guardian and matchingfoodandwine.com. Sadly, Fiona couldn’t be with us as planned, to present the workshop and to join Roger for a well-deserved bow, because it was a revelation.

Crab mousse in caviar macaroon, tinted with squid ink and seasoned with caviar salt. Photo credit: The Harrow, Little Bedwyn.Crab mousse in caviar macaroon, tinted with squid ink and seasoned with caviar salt. Photo credit: The Harrow, Little Bedwyn.

Firstly, Stellenbosch sauvignon blanc with citrus-cured wild salmon, coaxed into succulence after a 24-hour stint with clementine, lime and salt, and topped with a smoked sun-dried tomato. The rapport was a complete success, illustrating Roger’s comment that southern hemisphere sauvignon blanc has completed the transition from ‘bar-fly’ to high table, thanks to this poised, piquant rather than trenchant style. No surprises here, other than how such an exquisitely complex mouthful of food could be created from so few ingredients.

Next up was chenin blanc, also from Stellenbosch, with a crab mousse sandwiched in a darkly stylish caviar macaroon, tinted with a whisper of squid ink and seasoned with caviar salt to temper the sweetness. The fullness of the chenin carried both sugar and salt beautifully. Again, all was as it should be, but this was the lull before the bombshell.

That was elegantly dropped in the form of a curried lobster dumpling, lively with a jam of subcontinental spices, along with the startling advice that when it comes to matching wine and food, you should not serve like with like. I would have instinctively reached for an equally spicy gewurztraminer, but I found myself sipping a very elegant, discreetly oaked, almost Burgundian chardonnay from Hemel-en-Aarde in Hermanus. It was perfect, the richness of the lobster lifted beautifully by the citrus notes in the wine. Note to self.

Next was a Stellenbosch petit verdot rosé and more spice, this time Moroccan, pepping up a carpaccio of tuna and packing one or two agents provocateurs in the form of mint, yoghurt and mushy peas. Such a line-up demands a bit of sweetness for me, and that means grenache. Nevertheless, the uplifting, freesia-like bouquet of the wine primed the palate for the spices, while the dry, clean finish closed them off.

Carpaccio of seared venison, foie gras toffee, truffle and mushroom. Photo credit: The Harrow, Little Bedwyn.Carpaccio of seared venison, foie gras toffee, truffle and mushroom. Photo credit: The Harrow, Little Bedwyn.

For me, Cape pinot noir feels like work in progress, though a cool Walker Bay bottling shone here with an outrageous combination of seared venison, foie gras toffee, truffle and mushroom. Anyone planning to uncork a similarly luxurious mature Burgundy with the gamey, sous-bois flavours here should take note of the second demonstration of the like-with-like fallacy. Young and juicy (and cheaper) does it much better.

As if to rub it in, the last combination of Stellenbosch syrah with a sublime grouse bon-bon, enriched with black pudding and belly pork and finished with a smear of lime pickle, perfectly complimented the bird’s rich gaminess.

Conspicuous by its absence was pinotage, that polariser of palates, so a spot of heckling was in order. Again, I instinctively think of something similarly smoky and brooding to match this grape but the immediate answer was lamb, and not just because Roger is a Welshman. Hearty breeds like Karoo, which graze on wild herbs and basically marinate themselves, or our own Herdwicks come to mind. The scales fell from my eyes, as they are increasingly doing with pinotage these days.

Before I eat it, I’ll first take my hat off to Wines of South Africa, and any other generic wine body that resopnds so imaginatively to the challenge of engaging already pampered wine-drinkers in this way. The CIVB did it for Sauternes and savoury food (and I don’t just mean Roquefort and foie gras), and the inspirations of some very upmarket Bordeaux caterers will be posted shortly on our website. Prepare to be amazed!

Yes, it’s been an eye-opening autumn for accepted wisdom. All of which goes to show that if you think you know it all about food and wine matching, that’s all you know.

Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor

Our new Liberator ‘Midnight Bakkie’ (£9.95) is a fine example of a white Western Cape blend. Try also Fable Mountain Jackal Bird (£20). A very small parcel of Giaconda Chardonnay 2010 will be released for sale in our Christmas Fine Wine List, coming to our website and to members’ doormats very soon.

Categories : South Africa
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Tue 22 Sep 2015

Pest Control in The Cape

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The Cape is going green in more ways than one.

Villiera – producer of The Society’s South African Chenin Blanc amongst numerous, equally reliable Estate wines – uses ducks for pest (specifically snail!) control.

Villiera ducks

Is it a herd, gaggle or brood of ducks? Whatever it is, and in this number, they are a highly effective and natural option, albeit without great common sense in the face of an oncoming 4×4!

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

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Tue 15 Sep 2015

Rejuvenation in The Cape

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Springtime in South Africa and the vineyards are at varying stages of bud burst, turning the already beautiful winelands a fresh and vivid green.

Proteus flowers at Eagles' NestProteas flowers at Eagles’ Nest

Peter Stewart at Eagles’ Nest in Constantia, pictured below with head of Buying Tim Sykes, explained the challenges of extreme viticulture in this cooler area, where strong winds are a regular occurrence.

Peter Stewart and Tim Sykes

View from Constantia mountains

The view from the Constantia mountains towards the sea shows the green protective netting which is going up to protect the young shoots, and gives an idea of the steep slope and contour-hugging terraces in this vineyard amphitheatre.

Eagles Nest

Shiraz vines are trained low, with a tall cover crop offering extra protection. Also in view is some charred wood, recalling earlier bushfires which, with the right frequency, regenerate indigenous local plants.

View from Eagles Nest

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

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Mon 15 Jun 2015

South Africa: Feeling Liberated

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Four years ago The Society featured the first in our series of ‘The Liberator’ wines. At the time I was a little nervous. The quality of the wines was without question – not surprising really considering who the winemaker was, whose identity we are sworn to keep secret even now. It was more the concept.

The Liberator Blood Brothers Blue LabelHaving a wine with an accompanying comic strip, cartoon-like labels and running a caption competition as part of their launch felt pretty out there, particularly for a ‘serious’ wine merchant like The Wine Society. There was, however, no need to worry as members snapped up the wines and got into the spirit. Members who want to cast their minds back or might have missed this the first time around can view it here.

We have steadily featured more wines in The Liberator series over the previous few years from a variety of producers, some that we were allowed to name with others preferring to remain anonymous so to not cause conflict with their `day jobs’ as winemakers with some of South Africa’s most famous and respected estates.

One thing all the wines (or, as they are referred to by the mastermind behind the Liberator series Richard Kelley MW, ‘episodes’) have in common is that they all have a sense of fun while maintaining the highest levels of quality and value.

Our two latest Liberator editions, The Blood Brothers Red and Blue labels, epitomise this `serious fun’ aspect of this series more so than any of the previous releases.

The Liberator Blood Brothers Red LabelThe Red Label is new world take on a classic southern Rhône blend but in true Liberator style throws in a twist with a splash of zinfandel. It’s is important to iterate here that this is no mere gimmick: this is made by a very respected award-winning winemaker who doesn’t mess about. Those desperate to find out who this is can find out by having a little dig around on the theliberatorwine.com.

The other part of the duo is the Blue Label. This is a true blue-blooded example featuring all the classic Bordeaux varieties again made by the same talented winemaker as the Red label wine.

Both wines, like all those that have gone before them, feature an accompanying comic strip that goes some way to explain the ethos, rationale, quirkiness and uniqueness of these one-off wines; after all, there can’t be too many wines that have the backing of not one but two masters of wines, Richard Kelley MW and The Society’s own buyer for South Africa Joanna Locke MW, but that also compare styles of Bordeaux and the Rhône to the Gallagher brothers and the Charlton brothers!

Gareth Park
Marketing Campaign Manager

Categories : South Africa
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Thu 04 Jun 2015

South Africa: Escaping The Bush Fires

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Both Klein Constantia and newcomer Eagles’ Nest had lucky escapes when bush fires struck towards the end of this year’s harvest.

Smoke damage can be as bad, ultimately, if not worse than physical losses but both estates were spared the worst.

Hans Astrom of Klein ConstantiaHans Astrom of Klein Constantia
At Klein Constantia, MD Hans Astrom explained how the band of vineyards on their higher slopes were in the path of the fire but few vines were burned, the fire channelled between blocks and preferring to attack surrounding vegetation. None of the 2015 tank samples I tasted showed even a hint of flavour deviation.

At Eagles’ Nest, which was only established as a vineyard after the last major bushfire swept through the farm in 2000, the ‘silver leaf’ trees planted as part of the reconstruction of the property acted as a natural fire-break and there are now plans to plant more.

Both farms showed a great line-up of wines, more on which to follow in due course!

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

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Thu 05 Mar 2015

Bush Fires in South Africa

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Just this week I was discussing with a major supplier the advantages that South Africa has climatically: little frost risk, no earthquakes of note, plentiful sunshine, on- and off-shore winds which, on balance, are more positive than negative.

We forgot about ‘bush fires’. A more common phenomenon in Australia, they occur with less regularity in The Cape. Whilst essential for some indigenous flora, they can be devastating to wine farms – as has been the case with the current fires sweeping south, which at the time of writing have destroyed vines in Constantia and Noordhoek. All the more tragic with an exciting 2015 vintage in prospect.

This time-lapse video by Jason Aldridge on Youtube captures something of the scale and rapid growth of the fires. We wish everyone in the region the very best.

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