I assume you all have heard about the terrible wild fires that have been and are currently burning throughout California. According to the National Interagency Fire Center and Wine-Searcher.com, so far this year 7,012,294 acres in the U.S. have been damaged or burned due to fires.
Let us look closer at the Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Solano and Yolo county areas. The original fire, referred to as the LNU Lightning Complex, includes five fires which are Hennessey, Gamble, Spanish, Markley and Walbridge. The fire has consumed 363,220 acres and currently is 98% contained. There have been 232 structures damaged and 1,491 destroyed. Five people have been injured with five fatalities. This information was just released by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL-FIRE). So far in 2020, fires have destroyed 3,627,010 acres across all of California. There have been 7,982 incidents, 26 fatalities and 7,517 structures have been damaged or lost.
The major concern in the winemaking community is that the grapes are becoming tainted from the fire’s smoke. What happens is the grapes absorb chemical compounds from the smoke. These compounds are absorbed through the grape’s skin.
Grapes go through a growth period called “veraison.” The official definition of veraison, according to Wikipedia, is “change of color of the grape berries.” Veraison represents the transition from berry growth to berry ripening and many changes in berry development occur at veraison.
Grapes tend to absorb more smoke compounds before and after veraison. Wine Spectator magazine has reported you’ll know smoke taint when you taste it. Smoke tainted wine tastes like the bottom of an ashtray, or smokey, burnt or ashy. Needless to say, they are unpleasant tastes and flavors. Due to the winemaking process you’ll have less smoke taint flavors in white wine than you do in red wine. It has to do with fermentation. Red wines sit in their skins longer than white wine does.
What does all of this mean?
All wineries have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic which meant they had to close their tasting rooms. Of the 850-plus wineries in California, 500 of them have tasting rooms. Most wineries derive approximately 40% to 70% of their gross income from direct to consumer sales and the majority of the money comes from their tasting rooms. The balance is derived from internet sales. As the pandemic hit the U.S. and wine industry many wineries were able to increase sales revenues by increasing internet sales. Some were quite successful, while others were not and still haven’t recovered.
In August, the fires hit the wine areas and have caused additional disruption to the industry. What issues are caused by the fires?
- Lost vineyards or smoke tainted grapes.
- Testing facilities 30 to 40 days behind in giving grape test results.
- Wineries and growers are in harvest. With harvest happening, should they pick the grapes or let them rot on the ground? Vineyards can’t get test results therefore they don’t know which direction to proceed.
- People aren’t honoring their contracts to buy grapes until they know if the grapes are smoke tainted or not.
- Wineries need to decide if they are going to produce 2020 vineyards or not.
As a winery operation I have been faced with making some tough decisions in the last 10 days. Do I purchase 2020 grapes or bulk wines? Our winemaker Bruce Devlin and I spent some time discussing the situation. The grapes and bulk wines have not been tested and due to harvest we wouldn’t get the results back before the grapes had to be picked.
Our decision was to proceed with production with 2020 grapes and bulk wines. We will have it tested after production. We are planning to produce a 2020 Adler’s Blend, a 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2020 Tiedemann Signature Red Wine. I have yet to decide on the production of any white wines or a Pinot Noir. Many of my friends have advised against buying a 2020 wine at all. Only time will tell if we made the right decision.
More Fires in Napa: The Glass Fire
I wrote this article on Sunday, September 27, in the afternoon when the major fires were 98% contained. Later on that night another fire named the Glass Fire started in the Deer Park area which lies between the towns of St. Helena and Larkmead. According to a Cal Fire report, early Monday morning the Shady Fire and the Boysen Fire started just west of St. Helena near the Napa/Sonoma border. The Shady Fire and the Boysen Fire, joined with the Glass Fire and were on both sides of Napa Valley, burning to the east.
As of Tuesday afternoon the fires were still 0% contained and had destroyed 42,560 acres and 113 buildings in both Napa and Sonoma Counties. Cal Fire was reporting that more than 10,712 structures were threatened by the fire. Evacuations were in affect for St. Helena, Santa Rosa, Calistoga and rural portions of Napa and Sonoma Counties. At that point it was believed that some 65 wineries are threatened by the fires. Evacuation Centers had been set up in a number of unthreatened facilities throughout both counties.
As of Wednesday morning 46,600 acres had burned. Several well-known wineries have been lost so far, but Cal Fire reported the fire was 2% contained. This story is changing by the minute, but I hope you will join me in sending prayers and good thoughts to those who are fighting these fires and those who are being forced from home by them.
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Look Forward to These Happy Things: Upcoming LEX 530 Events!
Artisan Wine Dinner in Partnership with LEX 530 – Wednesday, October 7, 2020 – held at Artisan
Napa Wine Dinner – Friday, October 23, 2020 – featuring wines from 4 Winds Winery
LEX 530 Wine & Dinner Club Dinner – Friday, November 20, 2020
Important Wine Holidays
November 7 – International Merlot Day
November 12 – International Tempranillo Day
November 18 – International Zinfandel Day
December 4 – Cabernet Franc Day
December 20 – National Sangria Day
December 31 – National Champagne Day