Vineyards Race to Save Grapes From Fire, Smoke

Lack of tourists also causes problems in California's wine country
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 30, 2020 11:40 AM CDT
Wine Country Battles a Series of Threats
A plume rises over a vineyard in unincorporated Napa County as the Hennessey Fire burns on Aug. 18.   (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

With an early harvest already underway, a wildfire a few miles west of John Bucher's ranch added new urgency to getting his pinot noir grapes off the vine. If flames didn't do any damage to the delicate fruit, ash and smoke certainly could. Bucher hired an extra crew, which finished the task before dawn Wednesday in the quaint wine country destination of Healdsburg, remarkably early in the year for a grape often not harvested until the end of September. "It was just a race to get it done," Bucher said. Fire has been cruel to Northern California wine country lately, the AP reports. Three of the past four years, major wildfires have burned in Napa and Sonoma counties, charring vineyards, burning down a historic winery, and sending plumes of smoke above scenic hills lined with rows of vines.

While the majority of vineyards, winemaking facilities, and tasting rooms that attract tourists from around the world have escaped damage, the perception of the area being on fire yet again has hurt business. Add restrictions on tastings and dining during the coronavirus pandemic, and winemakers say they are reeling. Fires led to evacuation orders for some vineyards and closed down wineries. The early fires pose a threat if they persist and heavy smoke blankets the region for several days before grapes are picked. That can lead to "smoke taint," an undesirable burnt taste in wine. "You can't sit inside because of the pandemic, and you can’t sit outside because of the smoke," said Janet Tupper of Napa, who runs a wholesale business selling wine country-themed gifts.

(More California wildfires stories.)

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