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Kincade Fire and the Wine Industry

As many of you have seen already, there is another round of fires in Northern California, largely centered again around the city of Santa Rosa. The winds are blowing from east to west, causing an evacuation of at least 20 miles of Sonoma wine country cutting from the Napa/Sonoma county line in then mountains, all the way to the ocean.

While we’re safe and almost unbelievably, still have power (PGE and their power shutoffs is another interesting discussion) the smoke is now becoming a significant issue for much of the urban bay area.

Some quick notes:

  • Yes, most of the grapes were picked, “harvest” people will write was done. But, harvest includes fermentation and that’s tricky when winemakers are fleeing for their lives. It’s a communal industry though and like last time, they’ll continue to figure it out.
  • No, smoke won’t effect your wine from this vintage. It doesn’t seep into the juice. The real issue would be if something like this happened much earlier in the growing season and was taken in by the leaves and then imparted to the fruit.
  • Yes, most wineries and custom crush’s have back up generators. They learned over the past 2 years. Some purchased them, others rent them along with fuel at a cost of close to 10k a month for the few months where harvest would be taking place.
  • Yes, some wineries will be destroyed. Already have in Alexander Valley. At least the physical buildings. Vineyards as it turns out, make for a really nice fire break. They’re low laying, small density plants. Unlike much of what’s native to California, they also aren’t made to burn. Like the last few fire cycles, vineyard damage will likely be at a minimum.
  • Fire retardant is going to be EVERYWHERE in Sonoma vineyards. The stuff isn’t toxic though. Having lived with someone who was fighting fires for Cal Fire one summer, I’ve seen it, firefighters will often use the retardant as something of a garnish to prove to people it’s safe. It’s 85% water and the other parts are organic compounds. There’s going to be clean up, some organic certifications are going to be interesting, but overall, this doesn’t seem to be a concern. But, we don’t have a lot of examples of fire retardant in vineyards, so things can change. Again, if this would have happened when the leaves needed to stay on the vines, we’d have an issue for the vintage, but damage at this point in the growing cycle isn’t important, shoots and leaves are made to fall off in the next 60 days anyway.

As of this morning, Monday the 28th of October the Kincade Fire is still only 5% contained. There’s something close to 200k people displaced by flames, 2MM people without power and millions more with their health at risk due to the smoke which is starting to choke the bay area.

I’ll try and keep writing about the Kincade Fire and how it effects the wine trade as the days go by and more information and data become available.

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