Wildfires in California: Wine industry counts cost of disaster

A burned out home sits next a vineyard after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Sonoma, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties..
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Grapes of wrath – The flaming terror on the terroir struck at the heart of wine country

Call it the grapes of wrath – the California wildfires have struck at the heart of wine country, razing at least five wineries and damaging others.

Most of this season’s grapes have already been harvested, which limits possible damage from smoke.

But many business owners have not been able to inspect their properties since the areas remain evacuated.

“We just don’t know yet,” said John Aguirre, president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers.

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Media captionFire survivor: ‘I don’t have any neighbours any more.’

“It’s not clear how many vineyards have been damaged and to what extent they can be rehabilitated.”

The wildfires are the deadliest in California since 2003 and among the worst in the state’s history. At least 21 people have been killed and hundreds of people are missing.

Napa and Sonoma counties, where the terror on the terroir struck hardest, are home to about 10% wine grapes grown in California, according to the Wine Institute.

They’re also home to about a fifth of the state’s 4,700 wineries, which buy and process grapes ,and welcome millions of tourists each year.

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Media captionResidents return home: ‘It looks like a nuclear bomb went off’

While California is accustomed to risks from wildfires, the severity of these blazes is “unprecedented” for the wine industry, Mr Aguirre said.

At least five wineries have suffered total or very significant losses, and 11 more have reported damage, according to Napa Valley Vintners.

The organisation had not heard reports from about a dozen wineries in particularly vulnerable areas.

About 90% of grapes had already been harvested.

A decline in tourism and damage to vineyards are likely to add significantly to costs, once the damage is fully understood, said Rob McMillan, founder of the wine division for Silicon Valley Bank.

For individual businesses, the fires could be devastating as destroyed vines take about four years to grow back.

Mr McMillan said consumers, however, can rest easy: the fires are unlikely to lead to a wider rise in prices for California wine.

“There’s plenty of wine. There’s plenty of choices,” he said. “But it is going to be very painful for [individual] vineyard owners and winery owners.”


Before and after

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