Hearing the stories about the fires in Napa, Sonoma, Santa Rosa and Mendocino is incredibly sad and sobering. The loss of your home and all of your belongings, often including pets, is crushing. The loss of a business you’ve put your heart and soul into is devastating. The loss of people is beyond comprehension. These are losses that you never fully get over.
Beautiful memories will hopefully provide some solace, as will the incredible responses of neighbors, emergency workers and other concerned citizens.
At the Cal game on Friday, we had a moment of silence for all the loss. Most of us felt that that moment could have gone on for a lot longer than it did. But it felt good to send loving thoughts to communities that are suffering so much.
With all of this as a preface, I’m going to spend the rest of this article looking at the impact of the fire on wine production in 2017 and beyond.
I relied on three articles to help me write this story:
- How Climate Change and ‘Smoke Taint’ Could Kill Napa Wine
- How California’s Wildfires Are Affecting the Wine Market
- How Will California’s Wine-Country Fires Impact the 2017 Vintage?
Impact of the Fire on the 2017 Vintage
The good news about the fire, if there is any, is that most of the grapes for the 2017 vintage have already been harvested. At most, 20% remain unpicked. For the grapes that are unpicked, there is a risk of smoke taint, which can ruin the flavor of wine grapes. The longer the grapes are exposed to smoke, the higher the risk. So many vineyards have been working around the clock the last few days to pick the remaining grapes.
Power outages are also creating issues for the wines fermenting in tanks. Wineries expressed concerns about having a couple of days without punch-downs and temperature control.
According to Wine Spectator, one winemaker said that he might lose as much as 25 percent of his wine because of the power outages.
Impact on the 2018 Vintage
Wine Spectator says there is a good chance the vines survived. They say that Dr. Anita Oberholster, cooperative extension specialist in enology at the University of California at Davis, agrees that many of the vines should be fine since they are hard to burn and the strong winds actually helped to blow the fires through the vineyards very quickly. She thinks that, if there is an impact, it will be that the buds burned off, which would result in a lower yield next year.
Impact on the California Wine Industry
The impact of the fire on the broader market for California wines will not be as severe as many people would expect. Why? Because most of California’s wine grapes don’t come from Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino but instead from the San Joaquin Valley in central California.
What are considered by many to be the highest quality grapes do come from Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino. But most consumers won’t really feel the impact. And truth be told, a lot of the quality differential is due to supply and demand. Land in San Joaquin Valley is much more plentiful than in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino. This makes it less expensive, causing people to perceive it to be lower quality.
If you’ve been impacted by the fire and feel comfortable sharing your stories with us, please do so. We wish you comfort and healing.
As an independent wine consultant with WineShop At Home, I absolutely enjoy bringing a taste of the Napa wine country home to you one sip at a time. Whether you simply love to drink wine, seek a special personalized wine gift, or are in search of a new wine jobs opportunity as a wine consultant, feel free to contact me for a truly unique wine tasting experience!
WineShop At Home
Thanks for all the great information.
Sadly, the impact on the tourism of the area will be felt for some time even by those wineries who survived the fires. Many tourists will stay away just because they think many are closed. It will probably be a boom for those other great areas like Paso Robles, the Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey County in the meantime.
I know. It’s so sad.
Betty, this is great information that will help would-be wine-buyers know what questions to ask as they consider their wine purchases. But such a travesty for everyone on so many levels, as you said so eloquently. May the coming months and years bring far less destruction than we’ve weathered this year and greater prosperity to all.
I certainly hope so!
Many have asked us how they can help? The very best way to help a winery is to BUY MORE WINE! Nothing soothes your nerves like good cash flow – so stock up on wines for the winter as soon as you can get your credit card out!!
Most wineries store their wines in temp controlled facilities NOT at the winery – but in warehouse / fulfillment centers. Those centers are mostly south of Napa in industrial areas that did not lose power….consequently, most existing inventory is fine.
We are working to get the best results from the fruit that has not yet been harvested, and learning from the experiences of others (AUS, Chile, etc.) who have gone thru the smoke / fire / harvest process before.
Tom, thank you so much for your comments. I agree that we need to come visit you and spend money. I plan to do that very soon. And that’s very good news that a lot of the wines are stored off site, so they weren’t harmed by the power outages. I wish you and the entire community continued healing.