(picture thanks to AFP and Daily Mail)
Sadly, once again I find myself blogging about the woes affecting California’s vineyards. The state has ideal summer weather, perfect for ripening grapes, but the heat and dryness brings the risk of wildfires which, over the past few years seem to have worsened, becoming a serious and unwelcome regular event.
Two of the most extensive fires ever recorded have struck the area recently with, tragically, a number of fatalities plus several injuries and many homes and businesses destroyed. The fires are mainly in or close to key wine producing areas and already I have seen reports of extensive fire damage to 2 wineries, one in Solano County and one in the Santa Cruz Mountains and more minor damage to vines and outbuildings elsewhere including at 3 estates in Napa.
But the damage caused directly by the fire is only part of the story as far as wine producers are concerned. Acrid smoke hangs in the air around the fires and can be smelt many miles beyond; a number of official warnings for poor air quality are in force. Although this is bad for the local population, this year, more than ever before, it is affecting the grapes, too. The 2020 fire season has begun earlier than usual and, as a result, many of the grapes are still on the vines, unlike previous years when most would already have been harvested and be safely in the winery fermenting. This creates a particular problem, especially for red grapes. If smoke gets into the grape skins, it will taint the flavours and produce bitter, unpleasant tastes. White wines will be less affected as the winemakers can quickly press the grapes releasing the juice and the impact should be minimal. Not so for reds, where the skins are a crucial part of the process, essential for flavour and texture in the wine. It has been suggested that more rosé will be made as a consequence, but that isn’t really what the premium areas of California are aiming for.
The very latest reports are that the temperatures have moderated slightly giving the firefighters a chance to get the blazes under control. We can only hope that continues but, with the fire season still far from over, the problem could be around for some time to come.
I join with all wine lovers to say we will be thinking of the people affected and wishing them well.