|Fire approached the Suscal Mountain Vineyard but helecopters arrived and firefighters we were able to stop it in time.
“I never thought I’d be happy to see rain before the end of harvest,” Mark Couchman, chief investment officer for Westchester Agricultural Asset Management and CEO of Silverado Premium Partners, said of the rain that fell on California’s North Coast last Thursday. “This was one exception.”
While California’s wine grape harvest had nearly concluded before wildfires devastated Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino on October 11, a considerable amount of Napa Cabernet (and a little Merlot) remained to be picked.
Napa Cabernet is typically harvested in October but the harvest came to a stop for five days. Roads were closed, there was concern about having workers out in the smoke, and more wineries than not were out of operation because they had no electric power. Even with the fires nearly contained, some roads remained closed.
Couchman said roughly three quarters of his Napa Cabernet was still out when the fires broke out.
“We’ve had to send fruit to custom crush facilities out of the area but they’ve been very considerate and helpful,” he said. “All in all, we’re coming through quite well.”
“We weren’t hurt at all in the vineyard business,” grape grower Andy Beckstoffer said. “Vineyards are great firebreaks. We delivered every day. In some cases we had to go around the horn because the roads were blocked. Some wineries didn’t have a generator and were out of power at first – but then they got the power back.”
Beckstoffer, who sold 17,000 tons of grapes to 150 wineries this year, said 10 or 15 percent of his Napa Cabernet and a little Merlot remained to be picked when the fires broke out on October 11.
Mark Neal of Jack Neal & Son Vineyard Management, who farms 1,000 acres for clients in Napa, said he was 95 percent picked before the fires started.
Allied Grape Growers vice president Jeff Bitter said his Napa growers had just a quarter of their Napa Cabernet Grapes picked before the fires broke out, and that by Friday about a third of their Napa Cabernet remained.
“At this point, (on Friday) we’re probably down to our last third and I fully anticipate that will be off by the end of next week, or the end of the month.”
Jury Still Out
Compounds from smoke can be absorbed by grape vines, causing unwanted flavors in wine, but analysis can allow winemakers to screen for the risk and mitigate its effects.
Vinquiry is testing.
“Everyone is struggling a little bit with potential smoke taint,” Couchman said. “I’ll leave the winemakers to describe the challenges and mitigation techniques, but some people are concerned enough to want to have a discussion about how to deal with the costs in the event that they have to spend money on mitigation.”
“You won’t know for sure until the wines are made but the prospects (for not having taint) are very good,” Beckstoffer said, adding that the grapes that were left were thick skinned.
“All I can say now is that everyone is taking the grapes,” Beckstoffer said. “People are going to test, and there are a couple of things people can test for. … there was more concern about ash in the bins than about smoke taint.”
Mark Neal said some wineries were “good” about harvesting remaining grapes, others more “difficult.”
“This is where relationships can become stronger and this is where relationships can break,” he said.
Neal said an initial round of test results indicated “pretty low numbers.”
“Everybody was pretty much at full maturity and the numbers we’ve gotten back from ETS are pretty low for the thresholds," Neal said. “The jury is still out. I don’t think anybody can go out there and just because they see smoke, call it a day."
“Smoke taint is certainly an issue,” Allied’s Bitter said. ”I don’t think anyone can pretend it’s not being talked about among wineries and growers. There’s a general concern in the industry that we don’t want it to become something that gets blown out of proportion."
In a few cases, wineries were choosing not to harvest remaining grapes if they had crop insurance (insurers might try to ask grapes be tested) - sometimes because fruit was past optimum ripeness due to delays in harvesting, in others because wineries had other issues resulting from the fires.
“I see wineries taking very methodical approaches to dealing with potential smoke taint, but also to dealing with their growers and their contractual obligations,” Bitter said. “I don’t think any winery has haphazardly tried to walk away from things. Most are doing everything in a spirit of cooperation, saying ‘lets’ see how we can get through this together.’”
Flashing Away Smoke Taint
Some wineries were sending grapes suspected of having smoke taint precursors to be processed with flash detente because it may remove some of the unwanted compounds associated with smoke taint.
Some high-end and ultra-premium wineries use flash for positive reasons, to increase concentration and color or to remove vegetative characters or otherwise embolden their wines.
Some wineries only consider flash when things have gone awry and they need to “fix” problem wine grapes.
Flash is known for removing pyrazines associated with herbaceous flavors, for enhancing concentration, bringing out fruit forwardness, volatile acidity, and proteins that can oxidize wine prematurely. In the case of smoke taint, methyl glycol from burning wood can be isolated and pulled out to some extent.
Trials of 2017 wines may offer additional data points.
Over at Flash Wine Technologies, located at Kunde Winery, Rudy Zuidema said he was scheduled to process hundreds of tons of fruit, much of it suspected of having some taint.
In 2015, Zuidema flashed lots that were exposed to fires in Lake County and lots with methyl glycol numbers of 4 and 5 ppm came back at 1.5 or 2 ppm. “The key point is that after you flash, you press right away, so you don’t have your juice sitting on your skins waiting to get the color and extraction out. It brings all that out in a minute-and-a-half, so you remove the skins immediately and hopefully the taint goes away along with the skins," he said.
Zuidema said, however, that he had lots coming with initial tests showing higher numbers and that he didn’t yet know how much methyl glycol would be pulled out during the flash process.
Lots were also headed for clash at Carneros Vintners, where general manager Dave Dobson said a small number of trials have shown flash can help. He said trials showed fermenting on the skins resulted in a reduction of about a third with flash, though its effectiveness in removing methyl glycol isn't well known.
“If you have a vineyard with 40 ppm coming in – even if the machine does an amazing job to get it to 20 ppm, you still have a problem, he said, hypothetically – because that’s well above – 5 or 6 ppm – where you can recognize smoke taint."
“Any rush to judgment on 2017 is definitely premature”
“Integrity is going to be the name of the game in this vintage and we’re not going to do anything that would put the integrity of our brand into question,” Chateau Montelena winemaker Matt Crafton told Wine Business Monthly. “Any fields that we’re not 100 percent certain on, or any lots that we’re not 100 percent certain on we’re giving extra scrutiny this year,” he said. “It will go to bulk if there’s any question.”
Crafton said nearly all of Chateau Montelena's Cabernet was in before the fires hit, as most of its vineyards are in Calistoga and mature earlier. He said these vineyards have low yeilds, allowing for fruit to be picked earlier. He said about 40 tons of fruit from one leased vineyard of Cabernet that was still out during the fires will not be picked.
“Any rush to judgment on 2017 is definitely premature,” Crafton said. “We don’t want to sound like a bunch of Pollyanna’s saying everything is fine, but on the other hand, these wines are two-plus years out and we are not really sure what the effects are going to be long-term. We’re taking a wait and see approach, being as methodical as we can, and being very conservative in keeping an eye out for any of the known precursors. So far we’ve been very, very clean.”
“We’ve already made a decision,” Pat Henderson, director of winemaking for Kenwood Vineyards in Sonoma Valley told Wine Business Monthly. “We already know that everybody is going to be looking for smoke taint in the vintage. It doesn’t matter where it comes from, people are going to be hypersensitive to smoke taint. If we taste any smoke taint or analytically detect any smoke taint we’re not going to bottle it.”
“I have full confidence that California’s wineries and Napa Valley’s winemakers in particular will put a good product out into the marketplace this year,” Bitter said. “They’ve got too much at stake. When you look at that category, its known worldwide and the brands that are associated with it are incredibly concerned about their brand reputation. They should be – it's their livelihood.”
“The media has a way of taking a tiny portion of the business and then applying that to the whole,” Bitter said. “The reality is less than 20 percent of California's wine grapes are grown in Napa and Sonoma. Probably three quarters of that was picked prior to the fires. We’re getting down to where we’re talking about a very small segment of the business. We as an industry don’t want this thing to get blown out of proportion and all of a sudden to have trouble moving the vintage because of exaggerated quality issues.”
“The issues of people losing their homes and lives - that’s way more newsworthy than one vintage of a few grapes."
“Grapevine Viruses: Molecular Biology, Diagnostics and Management” is the title of a new reference book from an international team of editors and contributors who are among the world’s leading scientists in the field of grapevine virology.
Grapevines are susceptible to 64 identified viruses to date and effect grape and wine production and economics in vineyards worldwide. Some of the major virus caused diseases covered include: fanleaf degeneration, rugose wood complex diseases, leafroll diseases, Red Blotch disease and Syrah decline.
The book’s co-editors, who also contributed chapters, are: Baozhong Meng, College of Biological Sciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, Canada; Giovanni Martelli, Universita Degli Studi Di Bari, Bari, Italy; Deborah Golino, director of Foundation Plant Services, University of California, Davis; and Marc Fuchs, Department of Plant Pathology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
With 698 pages and 33 chapters, the book is the most up-to-date and comprehensive reference on the topic and includes current information on the biology, transmission, genome replication, transcription, and subcellular localization of grapevine viruses, as well as virus-host interactions. Color pictures show symptoms exhibited by infections and diseases by different viruses. The book was published in 2017 by Springer Nature.
Information on ordering and downloading the book or individual chapters is available at:
We received this email from Kate Bogart with UC Davis
A major issue for growers and wineries evaluating their risk for smoke taint is determining the concentration of guaiacol, 4-methyl guaiacol, or their glycosides, that is sufficient to create significant risk. While these compounds are good markers for fruit exposure to smoke, neither is well correlated with the intensity of smoke aromas and flavors in the resulting wines.
Dr. Tom Collins, an assistant professor at Washington State University’s Wine Science Center, is seeking samples of wines that have smoke taint or that are suspected to be tainted, for both chemical and sensory evaluation. The objective of his study is to identify potential marker compounds which are better correlated with the perception of taint than guaiacol or 4-methyl guaiacol. As such, he is looking for cooperating wineries in California who suspect they may have juices/wines that have been impacted by the smoke from the recent wildfires.
If you think you may have wines that express a smoke taint character, Dr Collins would like the opportunity to include them in his ongoing research project in Prosser. If you can participate, he needs six 750 mL bottles of each wine, to provide enough wine for both chemical analysis and sensory evaluation. Wines should be through primary fermentation, but do not need to be ML complete and should not have had any oak contact, as some smoke related compounds can be extracted from toasted oak staves or barrels.
UC Davis will act as the collection point for Dr Collins’ California samples. He is making a trip to our area the first week of November, and will be able to collect the submitted samples at that time. All winery/vineyard information included with the samples will be held with the strictest confidence at UCD. Dr Collins will not know the producer’s identity; he needs to know only variety and AVA. So he’ll be able to discuss generalities but he will not be able to discuss specific results with any of his cooperators. The resultant data is critically needed now as we struggle to fill important gaps in current knowledge about the impact of smoke exposure on grapes, juices and wine, both short- and long-term. Knowing more about the compounds involved in what we are calling “smoke taint” , will allow researchers to develop effective remediation techniques.
Wineries interested in submitting samples to participate in the study should contact Kay Bogart, whose contact information is in the signature below, for additional submission information.
A summary of WSU’s research on wildfire damage: http://wine.wsu.edu/extension/smoke-taint/
For technical questions, please contact Dr Collins. His bio is here: http://wine.wsu.edu/faculty/tom-collins/
A message from Bob Torkelson, President and CEO of Trinchero Family Estates, regarding fire relief assistance.
As thousands of brave men and women continue fighting the fires here in Napa and Sonoma, we are hopeful that containment is on the horizon. However, we are keenly aware that this is only the beginning as we anticipate a long, hard road of rebuilding for many of our neighbors and some of our own team members who have been displaced or lost homes.
We are proud to share that Trinchero Family Estates is donating $250,000 to the Napa Community Foundation to support fire relief efforts. Furthermore, we will be matching any employee donations 2-to-1 to our Family in Need Fund, and all of those dollars will specifically go towards helping our TFE team members affected by the fires. Our tasting rooms will remain closed for the next few days to help limit activity on the roads as we continue housing and providing meals for first responders at the Sutter Home Victorian Inn as we’ve done since last week.
We are extraordinarily grateful to the first responders who continue the fight to save our communities.
Below is a list of the wineries, associations, suppliers and other organizations who have made donations or started fundraising efforts for those affected by the Northern California Fires. If you have made a donation or created a relief fund, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the details.
In one short week, Idlewild Wines has raised more than $15,000 through the sale of special two- and four-packs of its Flora and Fauna Series. All proceeds are donated to the organizations supporting those who have been displaced and/or lost their homes along with the individuals who have come together to support efforts around the devastating Northern California fires. The drive will stay open until the winery reaches its $30,000 goal. To order, visit the winery's website.
Wineries have formed the support network CAWineStrong to provide immediate assistance and long-term aid to victims of the fires ravaging Northern California and are calling everyone that would like to help to donate to the relief funds. A large number of Santa Cruz Mountains wineries are donating portions of sales to the three main relief funds. Winery tasting rooms, breweries, restaurants, hotels and other CA wine loving businesses in Monterey have committed to donating a portion of their sales during the balance of October to fire relief efforts. For a full list of businesses supporting the efforts, visit the CAWineStrong Facebook page.
In addition to collecting donations of any amount, some Livermore Valley wineries donated a percentage of tasting room proceeds through October 15, including:
Bent Creek Winery- TBD portion of sales
Cedar Mountain Winery – 10% of sales
Charles R Vineyards – 10% of net sales through October. Accepting funds and items of need in tasting room
Concannon Vineyard-$1 per bottle purchased at estate winery & online (www.concannonvineyard.com) every day through October
Crooked Vine & Stony Ridge Winery- 10% of sales
Cuda Ridge Wines- 10% of sales
Dante Robere Vineyards –15% of sales
Darcie Kent Winery – 15% of sales
Eagle Ridge Winery – 10% of sales
el Sol Winery- % of sales all month long
Fenestra Winery- 10% of sales
Garre Winery – 50 Cents per bottle purchased (Thurs-Mon)
Las Positas Vineyards – 15% of sales
Longevity Wines – 10% of sales
McGrail Vineyards and Winery – 15% of sales
Nottingham Cellars- TBD
Occasio Winery – 10% of sales
Page Mill Winery – 10% of sales (Thurs-Sun)
The Steven Kent Winery- $1 of bottle sales through end of October
Wood Family Vineyards – 10% of sales
The Mendocino Winegrowers will donated 100 percent of all ticket sales to its annual Harvest Party to the Community Foundation of Mendocino's Disaster Relief Fund. Tickets are $40 in advance to members, $50 for non-members and $350 for a table for 10. Tickets can be purchased until October 31 online.
Charles Krug winery will be donating 20 percent of its tasting room sales in the month of November—up to $20,000—to the Napa Valley Community Foundation. The Winery is naming the initiative its “Thanks. Giving.” effort, and asks those who are able to join in with their partners in supporting the rebuilding effort that is soon to take place across all of wine country and much of Northern California.
Zinfandel Advocates and Producers has set up a restricted fund to help provide disaster relief and aid recovery efforts in the aftermath of this natural disaster. The association aims to raise $25,000. For more information and to donate, please visit https://www.razoo.com/story/2vpw3f
The Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation it is partnering with the Sonoma County Farm Bureau to establish a housing recovery fund for ag workers and their families who were displaced from their homes by last week’s devastating fires. The fund has benefitted from initial investments from local grape growers and supporters including $25,000 from the John Jordan Foundation and Jordan Vineyard & Winery and $25,000 from American Ag Credit. For more information and to donate, visit www.scggf.org.
On Wednesday, October 25, from 4:30-7:30 p.m., Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant is hosting a special event to generate funds for the victims of the North Bay fires. Ferry Godmother, Debbie Zachareas teamed up with her friend Pamela Busch, the local San Francisco wine aficionado and writer, and the following importers to host a tasting to benefit Undocufund. The purchase of a $20 tasting fee will include six tickets which can be redeemed for either a taste or glass of any wine on the table.
NakedWines.com has created a fundraiser amongst its Angel community, so far raising $210,000. The winery is working with local groups in Napa, Sonoma and surrounding wine country, including the Napa Valley Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Sonoma County. The money will go to those who work in the vineyard and cellar, and the winery is committed to helping people now and in the future, as recovery efforts are underway. For more information, click here.
The Stags Leap District Winegrowers Association released its highly-limited Appellation Collection, a luxury collection of 17 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignons from the 2014 vintage. This year’s coveted compilation features one bottle of 2014 Stags Leap District-designated Cabernet Sauvignons from 17 of the association’s prestigious member wineries. The SLDWA will donate $100 from each collection purchased to the Napa Valley Community Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund for fire victims. Visit www.staglsleapdistrict.com/appellationcollection to order.
Wine Country Strong, a not-for-profit organization based in Santa Rosa CA, has partnered with Vintage 99 Label along with Avery Dennison and Wilson Mfg to raise $100,000 by the end of the year through the sale of "Wine Country Strong" window decals. The decals are $6 each with 100% of the proceeds going directly to relief efforts in the Napa, Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Lake County, and Mendocino Counties. Visit winecountrystrong.org to donate $6 for a window decal.
Patrick Cappiello, Pax Mahle and Sara Morgenstern have established the Winemakers & Sommeliers for California Wildfire Relief (WSCWR) group. The goal is to rally wine professionals and wine lovers everywhere to support those affected by these terrible fires. WSCWR will be hosting three on the East and West Coasts late October in order to raise money for the relief efforts of the Napa Valley Community Foundation. They are accepting donations of wine from collectors, sommeliers, and/or distributors. This wine will be sold at each event at their respective retail prices, with 100 percent of the profits going to NVCF. For more information, visit www.wscwr.com.
The Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation is asking the local winemaking community to fund a campaign which will provide aid to the winemaking communities in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. Working with Direct Relief, a medical relief organization headquartered in Goleta, 100 percent of funds raised will be distributed throughout the affected area through California’s Office of Emergency Services, the Napa County Public Health Department, and more than 40 health centers and clinics in the tri-county region. Contributions to the Vintners Foundation wildfire relief fund can be made at www.directrelief.org/sbvintners
A number of Paso Robles wineries have come together to try to raise funds for those affected by the devastating wildfires in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. Each participating winery will be donating $1 per bottle sold through the end of the month to the Napa Valley Community Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund, Community Foundation of Sonoma County’s Resilience Fund, Community Foundation of Mendocino County. Participating wineries include: Adelaida Vineyards & Winery, Alta Colina Vineyard & Winery, Ancient Peaks Winery, August Ridge Vineyards, Bianchi Winery, Brochelle Vineyards- Eastside Tasting Lounge, Brochelle Vineyards – Westside, Caliza Winery, Castoro Cellars, Chateau Margene- Creston, Chateau Margene – Morro Bay, Cinquain Cellars, Cloak & Dagger Wines, Cypher Winery, DAOU Vineyards & Winery, Derby Wine Estates, Dunning Vineyards Estate Winery, Epoch Estate Wines, Frolicking Frog Cellars, Glunz Family Winery & Cellars, HammerSky Vineyards, HEARST RANCH Winery- Cholame, HEARST RANCH Winery- San Simeon, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery, Law Estate Wines, Le Cuvier Winery, Lone Madrone, Niner Wine Estates, ONX Wines, Opolo Vineyards, Oso Libre Winery, PasoPort / Per Caso Cellars, Pear Valley Vineyard & Winery, Pelletiere Estate Vineyard & Winery, Penman Springs Vineyard, RIO SECO Vineyard & Winery, Robert Hall Winery, San Marcos Creek Vineyard, Seven Oxen Estate Wines, Still Waters Vineyards, Tablas Creek Vineyard, Treana and Hope Family Wines, Villa Creek Cellars, Vina Robles Vineyards & Winery, Vino Vargas, Wild Horse Winery & Vineyards, Windward Vineyard.
The Glancy Wine Education Fund is creating special North Bay Fire Recovery Scholarships to benefit unemployed wine and hospitality professionals looking to improve their knowledge and skills while their community rebuilds. They will be accepting applications for 2018 certification programs through November 17th and are encouraging all professionals in need to apply here as soon as they are able.
In an effort to aid in the relief for the ongoing fire devastation in California, Drew and Maura Bledsoe, proprietors of Doubleback Winery, are opening their cellar and donating 100% of profits on a special library offering of Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon to the Napa Valley Community Foundation and its Disaster Relief Fund. Those who are interested in ordering bottles of wine to support the cause can order through Doubleback’s website at www.doubleback.com or call the winery at 509-525-3334.
Craig and Kathryn Hall of HALL Wines and WALT Wines started a fundraiser for the North Bay Fire Relief fund, matching contributions dollar for dollar up to $100,000. The funds will go to nonprofit organizations providing emergency relief to victims in all regions affected by the wildfires. As of Oct. 17, the Halls’ fund had reached $99,500.
E. & J. Gallo Winery will contribute $1 million to fire recovery effort and will match employee donations two-for-one. Joseph E. Gallo, chief executive officer of the E. & J. Gallo Winery, announced that the money will be divided among the American Red Cross California Wildfires Relief Fund, the Community Foundation of Sonoma and the Napa Valley Community Foundation. In addition, Gallo will match employee donations two-for-one.
Treasury Wine Estates is making a contribution of $100,000 to support those affected by wildfires in the Napa and Sonoma Regions by donating $50,000 each to the Napa Valley Community Foundation Disaster Relief Fund and the Sonoma County Community Foundation Resilience Fund.
G3 Enterprises is donating a total of $100,000 to the American Red Cross and Salvation Army to assist in their efforts to respond to the Wine Country Fires. G3 will also be covering the cost of transporting numerous truckloads of donations to the affected areas. To support G3 employees’ individual efforts, G3 will provide a 200% match of all G3 employee cash donations to relief funds in the area.
Trinchero Family Estates donated $250,000 to the Napa Community Foundation to support fire relief efforts. Furthermore, the company is matching any employee donations 2-to-1 to its Family in Need Fund, and all of those dollars will specifically go towards helping TFE team members affected by the fires. Trinchero also housed and provided meals for first responders at the Sutter Home Victorian Inn.
On Thursday, Oct. 12, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau accepted as perfected a petition to create a new AVA in Polk County, Oregon: Mount Pisgah. The petition, written and submitted by Brad Ford of Illahe Vineyards, would establish Mount Pisgah as a new sub-AVA of the Willamette Valley.
Included in the petition are 10 vineyards and two wineries from the coast range foothills south and east of Dallas, Oregon: Amelie Robert, Ash Creek Vineyards, Croft Vineyards, Erratic Oaks, Fern Creek, Freedom Hill Vineyard, Mistletoe Vineyards and Open Claim, in addition to Illahe. In total, 530 acres of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir and other varietals comprise what could become the second-smallest AVA in the state.
"We've always known that we were growing Pinot Noir in a special part of the Willamette Valley because our wines and grapes have received high praise. Once we realized that we were sharing success because of the unique spot, we got together to work on the petition. We hope that Federal recognition of our area will alert many more wine drinkers to the excellent grapes and wines coming from our little mountain in Polk County," said Ford.
In terms of soil, Ford wrote: “The area is unique in the Willamette Valley for its shallow sedimentary clay soils, its geological distinction, and its calm, sheltered climate.”
For more information from the TTB on this, and other pending AVAs, .
Illahe Vineyards was named one of Wine Business Monthly’s Hot Brands in 2016. To read the profile on Ford and the 2014 Estate Pinot Noir, please click here.
Horses set out to bring in Illahe Vineyard's grapes during the 2016 harvest on Mount Pisgah.
Photo courtesy Illahe Vineyards
Firefighters on Tuesday stood watch at Caldwell Vineyard in Coombsville east of Napa. The winery, which was evacuated, returned to full operation Saturday. Submitted photo.
The mood was more upbeat at today's 9:00 am media briefing in Napa, as there is no threat to buildings in Napa and resources can be moved toward Sonoma, with a move into recovery mode. Progress has been made Here's a link to a replay of the Sunday briefing via ktvu.com