California wine country fires nearly contained as growers face mounting challenges

Yesterday Cal Fire (California’s statewide firefighting agency) reported that the Tubbs Fire, which devastated the state’s northern wine country this month, is now 94 percent contained. 36,807 acres were burned according to the latest update.

Even as firefighters brace for the dreaded Santa Ana winds that are expected to hit Southern California this week (creating “an increased risk for wildfires”), it seems that Napa and Sonoma Counties finally have a respite.

New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov filed this report last week from the affected area, “Wildfires Spared the Vineyards, but the Wines Could Suffer.”

“Throughout the most beleaguered parts of Napa and Sonoma Counties,” he wrote, “the fires have left scorched, blackened fields and the occasional smoldering log. Almost invariably, though, they have left vineyards, the region’s most precious resource, intact, with at worst a singeing around the fringes.”

That’s the good news for the California wine industry. The bad news is that no one really knows what the long-term affects of smoke taint will be.

“Several days of visits to the worst-hit parts of Napa and Sonoma Counties,” Eric reported, “indicated that despite a communal sense of relief that the worst had been dodged, the fires have created serious concerns for the near future. Potential damage to the grapes, which may take months or years to show itself, could affect the supply and quality of some of this year’s vintage.”

The other behemoth issue that growers and winemakers are facing is the drastic drop in wine tourism, just when the industry should be receiving its peak number of visitors.

“Tres Sabores,” for example, “a small winery tucked into the hills in the Rutherford Bench area of Napa Valley, depends on tours and visitors for its business. It has had more than 250 cancellations through November, a situation repeated throughout the region…”

Here at Slow Wine California, we continue to follow WineBusiness.com for updates on damage reports and relief efforts.

And I highly recommend this post by veteran California wine writer Alder Yarrow, “Helping Northern California Wine Country After the Fires,” published over the weekend. Alder’s done an excellent job of aggregating links to the scores of relief effort resources available online, including Undocufund.org. (“Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for federal disaster relief,” he writes. “That’s why UndocuFund exists.”)

Beyond monetary donations and donations of much needed supplies, all winemakers and trade observers seem to agree that the number-one thing all of us can do to support relief efforts is to buy California wine and visit California wine country.

As strange as it sounds, there couldn’t be a better time to plan your trip or open a bottle.

Thanks for your support for the California wine industry.

Jeremy Parzen
coordinating editor
Slow Wine California

Image via Vino Girl’s Instagram.