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California wildfires threaten 2015 vintage

Wildfires that have left one person dead and displaced around 23,000 in northern California have raised fears that smoke taint could affect this year’s vintage.

Firefighters tackle blazes which have raged through parts of northern California since Saturday (Photo: Daily Mirror)

Three fires which have raged through the Lake County wine region and surrounding areas, and have led to mass evacuations in Lake County and Napa, have left many winemakers fearful of the extent of the damage to the state’s wine industry. Californian wine sales exceeded $24bn in 2014, according to the Wine Institute.   

The governor of California, Jerry Brown, declared a state of emergency in the region as the fast-moving blazes – known as the Valley, Butte and Rough fires – reduced hundreds of homes and businesses to smouldering ruins over the weekend and into Monday.

At least one winery, Shed Horn Cellars near Middletown, Lake County, was destroyed and its owners, Michael and Adawn Wood, lost their home, local press reported.  The wildfire posed the biggest threat to vineyards in the county’s south-east corner, around the Guenoc Valley region south-east of Middletown.  Langtry Estate and Vineyard, one of the most high-profile wineries in the area, suffered fire damage to some of its 1,000 acres of vineyards. The Valley fire is the third this summer to affect the wine industry in Lake County, which is home to 35 wineries and more than 8,700 acres of vineyards.

The most recent fire, which broke out Saturday, has struck in the middle of harvest, leaving winemakers with serious logistical problems and fear of smoke taint. Shannon Ridge Vineyards was poised to start picking Cabernet Sauvignon in about 400 acres in the Red Hills wine region south of Clear Lake this, but it has been forced to delay because of the evacuations, the local Press Democrat reported. A number of vineyards had already sent grapes to laboratories to determine whether smoke has affected the product, KOFY-TV in San Francisco reported. “The fires are spreading faster than I have seen in my 30 years,” Mark Ghilarducci, California’s chief of emergency services told The Sacramento Bee newspaper.  

A local woman identified as Barbara McWilliams, 72, died when the Valley fire engulfed her Middletown home, her family confirmed. She was a retired teacher who had moved to Middletown within the last year.

Nearly 3,000 firefighters continue to tackle the blaze, which is now around 29% contained, news agencies reported. 

California has witnessed around 6,000 wildfires this year – around 1,500 more than this time last year.

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