More than 8,100 blazes have burned nearly four million acres across California this year. The Glass Fire that broke out this week near Napa, which is only 2 percent contained, is ravaging parts of the famous winemaking region in the middle of the harvest season, and the effects may linger long after it and other fires are extinguished.
Grapes untouched by flames can be tarnished by ash or smoke taint, and the extent of the damage is revealed only in the fermentation process. (Because red wines are fermented along with their skins, which bear the brunt of smoke taint, they are more affected than whites.) There is a testing backlog, so the extent of the taint is not yet known, Gladys Horiuchi of the lobbying group Wine Institute told the DealBook newsletter.
Most California wine grapes are sold in advance, so vineyards and wineries are negotiating to mitigate the impact of the fires, Ms. Horiuchi said. The goal is to avoid any smoke-tainted wine ever going on sale. That means, for now, drinkers are unaffected, sipping wines from prior harvests. But even if consumers don’t notice any difference in flavor or pricing down the line, behind the scenes, supply chains and longstanding industry relationships are already coming under strain.
Some wineries are offering growers reduced payments to keep them in business but avoid potentially tainted grapes, while major buyers like Constellation Brands warn that contracts could be voided for elevated taint. And wineries previously concerned about oversupply because of the pandemic’s effect on restaurant sales are looking to the bulk market to cover a potential shortfall.
The San Francisco Chronicle is keeping a running list of wineries and vineyards in Napa that have been hit by the Glass Fire, with extensive damage reported at Castello di Amorosa (although its famous castle survived), Chateau Boswell and LVMH-owned Newton Vineyard, among others.
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