Wine, Wine Blog

Wine Country Wildfires Bring out the Best

Wine Country Wildfires showcase remarkable human spirit.

What a sad time to write a wine blog, with fires raging all around us. Even as firefighters contain some, others ignite. Predictably, even a good thing – lots of rain this past winter that delivered us from the drought – created dire conditions. A renewal of vegetation followed by many days of unprecedented three-figure heat created haylike ground cover. Fire crackled through it, a mass of red, terrifying in its speed and ferocity. I have seen only pictures in the newspapers; those blazes will incinerate anything.

As recently as three years years ago, this disaster would have saddened me, of course, but this time it has struck a blow to my heart. As you know if you’ve been reading my blog, I have spoken to several winemakers, mostly small, but some big ones, too. Size doesn’t matter in a tragedy of this magnitude.

What matters is the realization over the past few years of the backbreaking work that vignerons – makers and growers – put in day after week after year, channeling their passion into their bottles. The rewards really do lie in the journey as this is one that doesn’t promise fabulous riches. And like all farming, grape growing is subject to the whims of nature. The word ‘wildfires’ has a ring of nature to it, something that happens outside of human activity. Except these fires are a result of thoughtless human activity on a global scale. Although real, it is hard to imagine the immensity of the loss. Some people have lost everything.

Smoky wine?

With smoke billowing around the wineries and vineyards, what should we expect? Here, at least, we have some good news. According to an article by Anita Oberholster and Karen Block of UC Davis, roughly 90 percent of the grapes had been picked, although percentages may vary by area. We can be thankful, I guess, for the blistering heat that moved up the harvest season, else there’d have been more bunches on the vines.

The other good thing going for vineyardists is that grapevines are resistant to fire and do not burn easily. The authors of the study expect the vines that did not actually burn to recover, although yields may be affected. If you want to read more, here’s a link:


As more and more bad news came in and I heard of wineries and homes destroyed, I remembered a piece I had written on the history of Napa Valley.

Although I say Napa for the purpose of directing you to my article, I’m referring now to all of the Wine Country. Sonoma and Santa Rosa have sustained heavy losses. But they, too, will recover.

Disasters have buffeted Napa, from the earliest period of its wine growing history. After the high point of the 1880s, phylloxera, a root louse, devastated vineyards in Napa. That was followed by the eighteenth amendment in 1917 that prohibited the manufacture, sale, and distribution of wine. By the time Prohibition was lifted, the country was in the throes of a depression. Then came the Second World War. Only in the past fifty years has Napa thrived; Sonoma have become a force in their own right.

Therein lies my hope: In the frontier mindset that sees in a challenge an opportunity to do even better. To everyone touched by the wildfires, to the amazing firefighters, to community members, I raise a glass to many good times ahead.


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