Valley Fire Delays Harvest at Some Lake County Estates

The pictures we’ve been seeing this week on television have been horrific: entire blocks of homes and businesses in California’s Lake County, north of Napa Valley, left in a smoldering heap, destroyed by one of the worst fires in an already terrible California fire season.

The only “good news” is that there has been no loss of human life. But human lives have been impacted forever, and it’s going to take a long time for some people to recover, if they ever recover.

Thus far, there have been no reports of vineyards burning, but the fire has delayed grape harvesting in some areas of Lake County. On Wednesday, the Lake County Winegrape Commission and the Lake County Winery Association sent out this joint media release, with a status report on the fire’s impact on the county’s wine industry…

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As of Wednesday morning, the Valley Fire has burned 70,000 acres with 30 percent containment. Nearly 2,800 firefighters from around the state are gaining ground on the fire in wet and drizzly conditions.

Many local growers and wineries have been surveyed on the impacts of the fire, and it is estimated that 85 percent of Lake County’s vineyards have not been affected by the fire.

Vineyard managers and employees are gaining access to resume irrigation and harvest operations. Beckstoffer Vineyards’ Amber Knolls is planning to harvest this evening, according to General Manager Pedro Rubio.

“We are an experienced and resilient farm community and committed to delivering the highest quality grapes despite these challenging conditions,” said Lake County Winegrape Commission President Debra Sommerfield.

Access to properties and restoration of power in the southern part of Lake County remains dependent upon ongoing firefighting operations.

Since the start of the fire, vineyard reservoirs have been used as a source of water for fire-fighting efforts. Monica Rosenthal, owner of R Vineyards, said, “We are grateful that firefighters were able to fill their water tanks from our reservoir to help fight the fire.”

The vineyards, located south of Middletown, also acted as a fire break, helping to stop the fire from moving south toward Twin Pine Casino and beyond.

As of Wednesday, 90 percent of Lake County wineries in the fire-affected area have been able to resume operations or should be able to process fruit in this vintage, thanks to the enormous efforts of firefighters.

“I will be making wine tomorrow,” said winery owner Greg Graham, whose winery was impacted by road closures. “My employees were able to get back in yesterday, and today we are focusing on getting ready to harvest fruit tomorrow morning.”

Jacquelyn Farrington, Director of Hospitality at Six Sigma Ranch & Winery, reported that Brassfield Estate Winery has offered help with Six Sigma’s crush while the ranch is still closed.  “We are crushing Malbec at Brassfield on Thursday. While we have some access to the Ranch and know that our wines are safe and we have not suffered damage, we do not have power to run the crush equipment,” noted Farrington. “Matt Hughes, winemaker at Six Sigma, is working closely with Jason Moulton, winemaker at Brassfield, to make sure that our final crush operations can proceed.”

Jerry Brassfield, owner of Brassfield, said, “I am happy to help Kaj Alhmann (Six Sigma Ranch & Winery) anytime. I realize how important community is at a time like this, and am so impressed with the way that people are handling this disaster. The Lake County community response is nothing short of remarkable.”

While vineyard operations and wineries are working to get back online, some employees are dealing with the loss of their homes. “We are deeply saddened by the reports of employees in the Lake County wine industry who have lost their homes, but grateful for their safety,” said Lake County Winery Association Executive Director Terry Dereniuk. “The stories of loss are heartbreaking.”

To donate, please visit www.facebook.com/LakeCountyRising or #LakeCountyRising on Twitter to learn more about the Lake County Rising Fire Relief. Or, simply send a check made payable to Lake County Wine Alliance (memo: “Lake County Rising Fire Relief Fund”) to Lake County Wine Alliance, P.O. Box 530, Kelseyville, CA  95541.

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All of us at Vinesse send our best wishes to everyone impacted by all of the fires that have ravaged California this year.

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