U.S. wineries, their livelihoods scorched, face long road ahead
Repercussions could linger for many years
California’s suntinged wine country is familiar with the life and death of the growing cycle, from green buds to purple grapes to dry, gnarled vines. But the fires sweeping through three wine-growing counties have shaken this cycle to a core, with possible repercussions for years to come.
As thousands of firefighters try to contain 10 Northern California blazes, vineyards in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties are coming to grips with the damage and what they should do to rebuild — if they do.
“In terms of (future) production, a lot of people will have to rebuild and replant, so we’re bound to see a bit of a (grape) shortage,” says Mary McAuley, founder of Ripe Life Wines in Healdsburg, which buys its grapes from vineyards in nearby Mendocino County.
She counts herself lucky that her winery managed to miss the flames incinerating other parts of
The region’s fires, some of which were still uncontained Wednesday, have already claimed at least 21 lives and resulted in the destruction of 3,500 homes and businesses.
“But I think, longer term, a lot of people are going to bring in more technologies to protect against earthquakes and fire damage now that they have to rebuild their facilities.”
Some may even choose not to rebuild, she said. Wine industry experts say that even if a winery’s vineyards remain standing, they face steep challenges as their employees struggle with burned or damaged homes. The region counts wine and tourism as top employers, and many workers who pick grapes or work in hotels may be compelled to move after losing everything.
Napa and Sonoma counties are home to around 900 wineries (of 4,600 statewide), with most boutique businesses making higherend wines. The two counties represent 13% of the state’s output. And the state itself supplies 85% of the nation’s wine production, making it the fourth-largest producer of wines after Italy, France and Spain.
Northern California wine country is laced with mountains and valleys that partly determined which neighborhoods and business got hit. A bigger factor were the winds, which whipped by at 60 mph or more, sealing the fate of anything in the fire’s path.
At least six wineries — Paradise Ridge, Paras Vineyards, Chateau St. Jean, Signorello Estate, Gundlach Bundschu and White Rock Vineyards — appear to have sustained varying amounts of damage.
The region’s growers may have timing on their side. By mid- October, many varieties of grape will have already been harvested, with specific varieties such as cabernet perhaps remaining on the vines.
Burned bottles lay among the debris at Signorello Estate winery in Napa, Calif., on Tuesday.
Owner Rene Byck looks over the remains of his Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa, Calif. A note on the winery’s website said its “estate vineyards survived.”