Posted by on October 11, 2017 3:55 am
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Categories: American Viticultural Areas American wine Andretti Winery Burgess Cellars california California wine Disaster Economy Environment Gundlach Gundlach Bundschu Napa Valley AVA NBC Northern California Sonoma County wine Sonoma Valley University of California University of California, Davis Visit Napa Valley Board of Directors Wine Country Winery

Wildfires that have been raging across Northern California’s “wine country” since Sunday have destroyed at least four wineries and seriously damaged at least nine more just as the season’s harvest came to an end. The damage could leave one of the state’s signature industry’s hobbled for years, according to NBC.

Of course, assessing the scope of the damage will be impossible until the fires subside. The Napa Valley Vintners trade association has not heard from all members, especially those in the most vulnerable parts of the valley.  By the time the fires started on Sunday – accelerated by dry conditions and strong winds -about 90% grapes had been picked. And most of the remaining crop of thick-skinned cabernet sauvignon grapes not expected to be affected by the smoke.

Most wineries remain closed from power outages and mandatory evacuation orders.

What remains of the Signorello Estate winery…

At the Gundlach Bundschu – the oldest family-run winery in California, started in 1858 – in Sonoma County, workers were not sure whether the grapes above the winery survived the fires, Fox reported.  

Katie Bundschu, a sixth-generation vintner, recounted a scary Monday night in which the flames licked at the perimeter of the winery but were beaten back by firefighters. A century-old redwood barn and her grandmother’s 1919 home were spared.

“The winery was in the path of the fire but escaped being engulfed by the flames. We have some damage to fix. The wine is secure in our cellars. We are cleaning up and hoping to have the power back on this week,” Bundschu said.

However, Bundschu said that her winery, while damaged, will soldier on, and was seeking to dispel rumors that the business had been utterly destroyed. With information from the affected areas trickling out, a few other wineries have sought to inform customers that their facilities can be quickly repaired and expect to be back in business soon.

Burned out wine bottles at Signorello Estates

Millions of locals and out-of-staters flock to Napa and Sonoma counties every year to sample wine, sit in mud baths and soak in the region’s natural beauty.

Even one of the four wineries that was reportedly destroyed by the fires, the Signorello Estate winery in Napa, may recover. According to Fox, its vineyard appeared to be untouched by the flames.

Signorello Spokeswoman Charlotte Milan could only confirm damage to the winery and a residence. Fortunately, the estate’s 2015 reds and 2016 whites were stored off-site.

Burned out wine bottles at Signorello Estates

Not every winery was so lucky. The Paradise Ridge Winery in Sonoma County posted that it was “heartbroken” to announce that the facility had burned.

About 12% of grapes grown in California are in Sonoma, Napa and surrounding counties, said Anita Oberholster, a cooperative extension specialist in enology at the University of California, Davis. However, the grapes grown in those counties are of the highest quality and are used in the most state’s most expensive wines.

Since the year’s harvest had already been mostly completed by the time the fires broke out, the fire did little damage to crops, though it would’ve presumably destroyed stocks of harvested grapes and wines that have already been bottles.

What’s left of the Signorello Estate winery is seen through a window

Also, since the soil was unaffected by the fires, next year’s crop should be unharmed, Oberholster said.

Sara Brooks, chairwoman of the Visit Napa Valley Board of Directors and general manager of the historic Napa River Inn, said she has had some cancellations, but expects tourism to bounce back as it did after the 2014 Napa earthquake.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said, “It’s tough to see these places you’ve seen your whole life on fire.”

However, for some vineyards, the process of rebuilding could be painfully slow. At least 15 people have died from the fires, while 150 more remain missing. More than 1,500 buildings have been destroyed.

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