Tom's blog

Fire ravages Napa, Sonoma counties

My heart and my prayers go out to friends in Napa and Sonoma counties who have been affected by a fire that has consumed 50,000 acres so far. At least 11 people have died, scores are missing and others are injured. Still more people have lost homes and businesses, including several wineries caught in the fire's path.

Having just survived a direct hit from Hurricane Irma, I can appreciate the angst of fleeing a home and not knowing what you will return to. My wife and I were lucky to return to a largely intact house, but others around us fared a lot worse. But hurricane damage -- much of it repairable -- pales in comparison to a fire that destroys everything.

What wineries were leveled or damaged hasn't been disclosed -- except for Signorello's total loss as well as Gallo's Frey operations -- because staffs have fled for safety and simply don't know. But they soon will and I suspect the damage will be immense and wide-spread. 

Most of the grapes have been harvested at this point, but just because they are in fermenters doesn't mean they are safe. The stainless steel containers will protect much of the juice, but buildings and oak barrels are surely to suffer, not to mention the vineyards.

There has been a lot of jabber about smoke taint that will impact grapes still on the vines. I experienced that several years ago when tasting a number of Mendocino County wines from the 2008 whose grapes were downwind of fire. I didn't find them pleasant. My bet is that the only grapes still on the vine may have been cabernet sauvignon -- the iconic grape that goes into top wines in Napa but a variety that is particularly susceptible to smoke taint. Given the caliber of some of these producers, I suspect that many of them will choose not to bottle their wines this year. 

The 2017 harvest will give us a lot to talk about when the smoke settles.