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California Wildfires Ruined a Winery's Grapes. It Had a Plan

Napa Valley's Pine Ridge Vineyards is now producing vodka made from the smoke-tainted fruit
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 9, 2021 1:36 PM CST
Winery Whose Grapes Were Ruined by Smoke Shifts to Vodka
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/a_namenko)

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. When it hands you ruined grapes, make ... vodka? That's what Napa Valley's Pine Ridge Vineyards opted to do when its grape crops were sullied by smoke from last year's California wildfires, thanks in part to a partnership with an Almeda distillery. Nicolas Quille, COO and head winemaker for vineyard owner Crimson Wine Group, tells Reuters he rushed to harvest the winery's grapes as the 2020 wildfires burned in the Golden State, but the resulting wine "wasn't that good."

Quille and his team could've dumped the whole batch, but instead they sent a few samples over to Hangar 1 Vodka, and voila—Smoke Point Vodka, the "first vodka made from smoke-tinged grapes." Tasting notes for the beverage indicate a "bold palate with notes of fruit, licorice, and allspice," with the Hangar site calling the libation "an experiment in terroir and sustainability."

"The texture is very nice. It's smooth," Michael Kudra, head bartender at San Francisco's Quince restaurant, tells Reuters, adding, "You get almost like the taste of a barbecue from far away, you know someone's using coals." The 7x7 website notes the vodka "has virtually no trace of smoke, which was extracted during the distilling process, and, yes, it's completely safe to drink."

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Other California vineyards have also been trying to creatively use grapes affected by the wildfires, including in brandy and grappa, but Pine Ridge appears to be the first to repurpose the fruit to make vodka. "If things turn for the worse and those fires become more violent and more frequent, it's definitely an option that needs to be on the table," Quille tells Reuters. All proceeds from sales of the vodka will go toward the California Fire Foundation, a nonprofit that helps communities, individual victims, and firefighters affected by wildfires and other natural disasters in the state. (More wine stories.)

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