You’ve seen the devastating images on tv, social media, and your daily news outlets. Fires have rapidly swept through many of our beloved wine-growing areas. California, Australia, Portugal, South Africa, and even parts of France (just to name a few) have fallen prey to the force that is mother nature.
The burning wine industry is combating the effects of smoke taint on their crops. The actual fires have made their marks by destroying wineries and vineyards, but it’s the smoke damage that is the real silent killer. This sneaky, yet devastating, impact of prolonged smoke exposure to the grapevines can result in entire harvests being dumped. Depending on where the individual grape bunch is in its growing phase, smoke can alter the integral outcome of a crop. During variation and right before harvest has been documented to be the most vulnerable time. Smoke taint leaves behind undesirable flavors such as burnt ash and cigarette butts.
The power outages, intentional or not, can cause real concern for a winemaker. The fires in California specifically, happen to occur during the same time as harvest. Having the power to a winery is essential in almost every aspect of the harvest process. Equipment can’t be used, controlled cellar temperatures to keep wine at its prime are shut off, and even as basic as having light in the evening to continue working can potentially not be an option. Several wineries rely heavily on a generator during this time, however, having access to a generator that possess the power to even keep the lights on is becoming more difficult. Mandatory road closures and evacuations can leave fermenting wine unsupervised for days. A process that normally has eyes on it several times a day to control the sugar levels and the heat displayed from fermentation to ensure no bacterial issues take over.
What about the soil after the fires? Small amounts of fire to the soil can have a positive impact. In the appropriate doses, fire can kill diseases and insects while enriching the nutrients in the soil. In unmanageable doses, fire can deplete the soil of all its nutrients making revegetation difficult. There is also the possibility of erosion. Wildfires can burn away ground cover and vegetation across the landscape, leaving soils exposed and easily erodible by precipitation. Instead of the rain soaking into the soil, rainwater and melted snow can rush across these hardened surfaces, gaining enough power to erode loose sediments.
The biggest monetary set back caused by the fires is the decrease in tourism. The perception that vineyards and wineries are now just piles of ash has caused a ripple effect in visitors to wine regions. Areas such as Australia and California are starting to see the economic consequences of fewer and fewer winery goers. This is where we can step up and do our part! Keep making those vineyard trips, especially to the areas most affected (think Napa, Sonoma, Adelaide Hills, Southern France, Portugal). We’ve compiled a list of bottles you can add to your collection from wineries in need of reparation.
Henschke Giles Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills, Australia 2017
Luxuriously silky, bright red berry-fruited Pinot Noir
Casa de Mouraz Branco, Dao, Portugal 2017
Luminous, textured, pithy dry white
Chateau de Caraguilhes, Corbieres, France, 2017
Spicy, robust, brambly fruited red
Mayacamas Chardonnay, Mt Veeder, Napa Valley, California 2017
Aromas of ripe lemon honey with the classic Mayacamas acidity and textural richness