California wildfires: Wine communities ‘will emerge stronger and more connected than ever’

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

Late harvest Napa Valley grapes. Pic: getty/jessicaruscello
Late harvest Napa Valley grapes. Pic: getty/jessicaruscello
California’s deadly wildfires have affected wineries across the world-famous wine region: but many are continuing to operate despite challenging conditions to finish harvest.

In the past week, over 245,000 acres have burned across California. The death toll has reached 41, and more than 5,700 structures have been destroyed. 

Winery damage report as of 16/10

  • Of the 1,200 wineries in Mendocino, Napa & Sonoma counties, it is reported that less than 10 have been destroyed or heavily damaged.
  • Five vineyards totaling 200 acres in Potter Valley area of Mendocino are reported damaged. Because many areas were evacuated, some winery owners do not have access to their properties to assess the status, so the situation remains fluid.
    Source – Wine Institute

Initial assessments have reported some damage to wineries and the fires have affected people working in the industry; however, in a statement issued on Monday (October 16), Wine Institute said loss and damage to wineries and vineyards ‘has not been widespread’.

Many wineries and vineyards in impacted regions are operating despite the challenging conditions to finish harvest and fermentations,” ​said the organization, which represents the California wine industry. 

“The wine communities in these regions will soon emerge stronger and more connected than ever. The vintners in Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma will make outstanding wines from the 2017 vintage, which enjoyed an excellent growing season.”

Tough skinned grapes may withstand smoke taint

Due to the heat in August and early September, the majority of grapes in the state had already been harvested before the fires started: 90% in Napa Valley and Sonoma County, and 75% in Mendocino County.

“Remaining on the vines are primarily late-ripening red grapes, mostly the tough-skinned Cabernet Sauvignon, which vintners believe can withstand smoke in the short term,"​ says Wine Institute. 

"It is premature to discuss smoke taint on grapes remaining on vines. Vineyard owners with remaining grapes are picking when they can and will assess quality.”

Smoke is not an issue for wine that is fermenting or has already been bottled, added the organization.

“It’s been reported that vineyards have not been burning and are helping to save structures near or surrounded by vineyards. In previous fire incidents, vineyards have acted as firebreaks. Some vineyards have been damaged in areas where the speed and intensity of the fire were greatest.”

Wineries contribute portion of October proceeds to relief organizations

ca wine strong

The California wine industry has created a CAWineStrong​ network, encouraging wineries & related industries to contribute to a statewise fundraising effort.

Members are donating a portion of their proceeds during the month of October to support local community relief organizations in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Solano counties: with proceeds going to Napa Valley Community Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund, Community Foundation of Sonoma County’s Resilience Fund & Community Foundation of Medocino County. 

A statement issued yesterday by CAL Fire, the state’s fire and emergency response department, said more than 11,000 firefighters continue making progress on 12 large wildfires.

“As containment figures continue to increase, many of the evacuations across the fires in Northern California have been lifted. Over 34,000 people remain evacuated, but many of the evacuation orders are being re-evaluated. Residents returning home are urged to be cautious as hazardous conditions may remain.”

California is by far the largest grape and wine-producing area in the US, accounting for around 85% of the country’s total output. It has 4,581 wine producers and 560,000 acres of vineyards, generating close to $71.2bn in total economic activity​​​ each year.

Wine tourism is also a significant part of the industry’s impact: the ‘wine country’ regions generate 23.6m tourist visits and $9.7bn in annual tourism expenditures.

Related topics: Markets, Beer, Wine, Spirits, Cider

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