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California wildfires: wine industry impact

As the wildfire which has reportedly engulfed 104 square miles of northern California continues to rage, the local wine industry remains hopeful that the 2015 vintage will not be seriously affected.

The Valley Fire continues to rage in northern California, with several wineries in the Lake County region badly affected (Photo: Wally Skalij)

The so-called Valley Fire of Lake County and Napa Valley continues to burn, but the Californian Wine Institute sought to play down concerns that this year’s vintage could be affected by smoke taint.

“We are saddened by the loss of Shed Horn Cellars in Lake County and very concerned for local residents, including our vintners and growers,” the institute said.

Regarding the possibility of smoke taint, the institute added: “The smoke has not lingered in the vineyards because of winds and many grapes are already picked because of the abnormally early harvest. Smoke taint impacts grapes that are in a growing stage of rapid expansion, [but] the grapes are well advanced at this point.”

With record high Californian grape harvests reported in 2012, 2013 and 2014, the institute said that there is a good supply of California wine. Projections for 2015 from the USDA/California Department of Food and Agriculture were for another bumper year of around four million tonnes of grapes.

The db reported yesterday (15 September) that the wildfires, which have been burning since last Friday, have left one person dead and led to the evacuation of around 23,000 people in Lake County and Napa County. The fires are raging right in the middle of the Californian grape harvest.

Hundreds of homes and businesses in the region have been destroyed, while several wineries have been directly affected by the fires. One winery, Shed Horn Cellars near Middletown, Lake County, was destroyed and its owners, Michael and Adawn Wood, lost their home.

The Woods said in a statement: “We are saddened about the loss of our beautiful county and our many friends that have lost their homes. We are blessed with the outpouring of kindness and thoughts of our personal friends and friends in the industry. We do have inventory in the warehouse to keep our orders filled and our tasting room stocked.”

Meanwhile 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 vines. The winery, located in Middletown, is now back up and running by generator power, the local winegrowers’ association said, though concerns remained about smoke damage to the grapes.

“It’s likely that we won’t be able to harvest the remaining grapes due to smoke damage, but our winemaker is doing some lab work to confirm,” a statement from owners Foley Family Wines said.

The Langtry Estate in the Guenoc Valley of Lake County has lost one home on its property to fire (Photo: Langtry Estate)

“The good news is that it appears that the actual damage to the vineyards may not be as bad as we initially thought – there are areas of green once you get past the most outer vines. We lost one of the homes on the property but the historic Lillie Langtry home was saved.”

Debra Sommerfield, president of the Lake County Winegrape Commission, said: “While we don’t yet know the extent of vineyard and winery damage, for some local grape growers the main impact has been the closure of Highway 29 in the midst of harvest 2015, which has made it challenging both for harvest workers to get to the vineyards to pick the fruit and for trucks to haul the fruit to the winery.”

The Lake County Winery Association and Lake County Winegrape Commission are working together to respond to this disaster. Lake County Winery Association Executive Director Terry Dereniuk said: “We are working side by side in this disaster. The Valley Fire is the fifth fire incident in Lake County since August.

“Efforts are underway to gauge the extent of industry damage and coordinate efforts to assist the community.”

Wineries in the Napa Valley, meanwhile, were reported to be open for visitors after an emergency status for the area was lifted.

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