The Wine Country Wildfires and Their Impact on Wine

wildfireThe most profound impact of the wildfires that devastated parts of Napa and Sonoma counties last fall was the loss of human life.

Then came the loss of property, including entire neighborhoods of homes, a handful of wineries and significant vineyard acreage. Those losses, of course, impacted the survivors of the fires that own the buildings and land.

It simply didn’t seem appropriate at the time to even bring up the consideration of wine quality from the 2017 harvest. Anytime I thought about broaching the topic, two words popped into my head: “Too soon?”

Well, whether too soon or not, wine drinkers have begun to ask questions about the 2017 vintage from Napa and Sonoma countries, and whether those fires — specifically, the smoke from those fires — would have an impact on wine quality.

After speaking with a number of winemakers I trust, the nearly universal answer appears to be no.

The reason: The 2017 growing season was hotter than normal, which hastened the ripening process in most of the vineyards in North Coast Wine Country. By the time Oct. 8 — the date that the first of 15 big Northern California wildfires ignited — rolled around, most of the grapes had already been harvested, pressed, fermented and transferred to barrels or tanks to begin the aging process.

I’ve also been told that vintners who had not yet harvested their grapes, for the most part, opted not to ferment the fruit that was still on the vines after the fires had been extinguished. They did not want to risk their reputation by producing wine from smoke-tainted grapes. They decided to take a financial hit for one vintage, rather than destroying a brand that may have taken years to build. Smart.

So, all in all, I’m expecting great things from the 2017 Napa and Sonoma wines.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

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