Relief fund launched for California wine country

As fires continue to burn across the state of California, a team of wine industry professionals, who helped to raise almost US$100,000 after the 2017 fires, have launched a relief fund to help those affected this year.

According to the latest data from Cal Fire, over 14,000 firefighters are currently battling more than 24 major fires across California. A statement released yesterday (25 August) said that conditions experienced the previous evening had been favourable, but there had still been over 200 lightning strikes across the state.

Since 15 August, there have been over 13,000 strikes in the state and more than 650 wildfires, which have now burned over 1.25 million acres, an area larger than the state of Delaware.

Seven people have died and more than 1,400 structures have been destroyed.

Fires have burned across many wine-growing regions, including parts of Alameda, Contra Costa, Lake, Monterey, Napa, Santa Clara, Solano, Sonoma and Yolo counties. The fires have come at a time when the state’s wine producers are harvesting this year’s crop.

Wine industry professionals Tia Butts, Katie Calhoun, Kimberly Charles, Rebecca Hopkins and Katherine Jarvis have now banded together to launch a fundraising campaign, primarily focused on supporting members of the industry, including farmworkers, that have been caught up in the fires.

The fundraising campaign can be found here. 

The largest fires in the state, the so-called SCU and LNU lightning complexes, are now the second and third-largest wildfires in state history. The SCU complex, which has now overtaken the LNU in size, is burning across Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clare and Stanislaus counties, covering an area of 365,772 acres. So far it is just 20% contained.

LNU, which is now 27% contained and covers and area of 356,326 acres, includes the Hennessey, Walbridge and Meyers fires, which have struck parts of Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Solano, and Yolo counties.

Further afield the CZU complex, affecting the Santa Cruz mountains, now covers an area of 79,640 acres and is 19% contained.

Those wineries known to have received some damage during the fires include Brown Estate, Somerston Estate and Nichelini Vineyards in Napa and La Borgata Winery and Distillery in Solano.

According to Sonoma West, sparkling wine specialist Korbel Winery in Sonoma ceased production at its winery near Guerneville last week and diverted harvested grapes to its Bakersfield Heck Cellars.

Some wineries have had to cancel outdoor tastings due to poor air quality, and those in the affected areas have had to evacuate, disrupting harvest.

While many, including most producers on the valley floor in Napa, remain unaffected, the extent to which smoke taint may have affected the grapes is unclear.

Noah Dorrance, owner and winemaker of Reeve Wines in Healdsburg, Sonoma, has told the San Francisco Chronicle that there’s a good chance the producer won’t be able to use any grapes this year, due to the smoke. The wine label, which does not own its own vineyards, instead sources grapes from growers and rents out space at a crush facility.

Dorrance told the publication that he had already tasted smoke in samples from this year, adding: “I had never considered that smoke could affect everything we make.”

Much depends on the weather in the forthcoming days and weeks, and how long the smoke lingers over vineyards.

Other aid organisations include the American Red Cross, the World Central Kitchen, the California Fire Foundation, Napa Valley Community Foundation, Sonoma County Vintners Emergency Fund and the Monterey County Community Resilience Program.

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