Napa Valley
Damage is said to not be "widespread" from a complex of fires that destroyed wineries and vineyards on California's North Coast.

Localized damage as North Coast fires razed vineyards, wineries

Several wineries destroyed in complex of fires covering Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties

Devastating as the California North Coast fires were, wine makers from the famed Napa Valley region are said to be “optimistic” as recovery efforts are underway.

Several fires in the region burned 100,000-plus acres and several wineries as high winds in early October quickly fanned flames.

The cause of the fires remains under investigation.

Wine grape growers in a region stretching from Napa and Sonoma to Redwood Valley were impacted by fires that various trade associations say did not have widespread reach, though where they did burn, were destructive.

Napa Valley Vintners say 47 NVV members sustained some degree of direct property damage from the fires. The group reports a membership of over 525 wineries.

Napa County Agricultural Commissioner Greg Clark said nearly 3,500 acres of Napa vineyards were within fire lines. This is less than 8 percent of the county’s total wine grape acreage.

Damage to Napa vineyards ranged from scorched leaves from the extreme heat to destroyed vines, trellises and other vineyard infrastructure.

Clark said his office issued about 600 permits during a 10-day period to allow harvest crews and winery operators to access facilities where harvest or wine making processes needed to continue. The county agriculture department also provided escorts to those crews for safety and security reasons.

Neighboring Sonoma County included 30 percent of the valley razed by fire.

Both the Sonoma County Winegrowers and NVV say harvest in the region was 90 percent complete when fires began with mostly the Cabernet Sauvignon variety still on the vine, according to a NVV statement.

According to Karissa Kruse, president, Sonoma County Winegrowers, Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa was destroyed. Chardonnay grapes in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley picked as the fires burned were said to be “of excellent quality” and were transported to a Napa winery.

Smoke taint from the fires should thus be limited as much of the region’s wine grape harvest had already taken place.

Jeff Bitter, vice president of Allied Grape Growers in Fresno, Calif., said AGG members were not as far along at harvest. According to Bitter, overall damage to vineyards in the region was minimal and localized.

Damage assessments continue as growers inspect vines charred by flames. Bitter says those growers will assess vine damage and whether to replant.

For some vines scorched by heat and flames, Bitter suspects they could recover though this could impact next year’s fruit set as buds for next season could have been impacted by the heat.

Also of concern are grapes left on the vines in the mad dash by growers and employees to escape the flames, says Bitter. How long the grapes stayed on the vine beyond their planned harvest will become a management decision for wineries when deciding what to do with grapes that may have over ripened beyond the intended harvest quality.

He says wineries will also continue to test for smoke taint in grapes, though Kruse suspects taint will be a minor issue since much of the crop was already harvested.

Region promotion

fFrom the messages released by NVV, AGG, and others, consumers and tourists are encouraged to return to the region.

“Do people find themselves staying away from wine country because they think it’s charred and black,” Bitter asked rhetorically. “I would hope not.”

NVV went further, saying that people with vacation plans in the region should keep those, even though access to some areas are limited or restricted.

Donation efforts continue. NVV recommends contributions be sent to the reactivated Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund, originally established after the 2014 Napa Valley earthquake.

E&J Gallo Winery will donate $1 million to aid fire recovery efforts, dividing the funds between the American Red Cross, the Community Foundation of Sonoma and the Napa Valley Community Foundation. Gallo will match employee donations two-to-one.

A website is available on the latest updates on road closures, wildfires and air quality.

The Mercury News website has a more complete list of wineries damaged or destroyed by the fire.

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