I was driving through Hopland, Calif., on June 28, en route to the Kate Wolf Music Festival, when I spotted some smoke rising in the air west of Highway 101.
“Probably a controlled burn,” I thought to myself. Inland Mendocino County can be a tinder box in the summertime, and according to the digital thermometer in my rental car, it was 102 degrees outside.
As I drove closer, I could smell the smoke. It reminded me of the aroma of a campfire in the middle of a forest.
A moment later, it became perfectly clear that this was not a controlled burn. About a hundred yards from the highway, next to the source of the smoke, were two red fire engines, their lights still flashing. I could not tell what was burning, but I feared it might be a vineyard. The smoke was now white, meaning firefighters had a handle on the situation.
On Sunday morning, a front-page story in the Ukiah Daily Journal confirmed my fear. According to Hopland Fire Department Captain Mitch Franklin, “They lost a lot of grapes—several hundred vines.”
The identity of the vineyard owner was not revealed, nor was the grape variety (or varieties) involved. I’m looking into that, and hope to have a follow-up report soon.
Given the number and scope of wildfires in California in recent years, it’s amazing how little the Golden State’s vineyards have been impacted. On June 28, the odds caught up with at least one winegrape grower. It will be years before that charred plot of land is able to produce wine-worthy grapes, as replanting appears to be the only option.