Washington Winegrowers, National Partners Ask Congress for Wildfire Relief
September 23, 2020
The Washington Winegrowers Association and nine other regional and national organizations asked Congress to extend the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+) to help grape growers and winemakers affected by recent wildfires.
The September letter, addressed to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, asks for immediate relief and is signed by Washington Winegrowers Association Executive Director Vicky Scharlau along with the Washington, Oregon and California farm bureaus, California Association of Grape Growers, California Wine Institute, Oregon Wine Board, Oregon Winegrowers Association, Winegrape Growers of America, and WineAmerica.
Wildfires are creating what could be the greatest natural-disaster-borne economic loss ever suffered by the wine industry in all three states, the letter stated, noting that California, Oregon, and Washington are the leading wine-producing states in the nation. On average, 7,300 wine grape growers in all three states produce a crop valued at $4.5 billion per year.
In addition to devastating fires, the wine and grape industries contend with the damage smoke exposure may cause winegrapes. Chemical compounds in smoke can release unpleasant ash-like flavors in wine as it ages. Consequently, some wineries are reluctant to accept smoke-exposed grapes.
“Without a market, these grape growers are forced to abandon their fruit in the vineyard. In other instances, buyers have agreed to purchase grapes at a discount but could later face unanticipated costs to test and treat wine made from smoke-exposed fruit,” the letter stated, adding that without assistance from the federal government, “many of our members will confront unprecedented economic uncertainty.”
The letter noted little is currently known about the full impact of smoke on grapes and growers may not realize the full extent of their losses for another year or more. “We sincerely appreciate your active leadership and continued interest in assisting wine grape growers and winemakers in overcoming the devastation caused by this year’s wildfires,” the letter closed. The full letter can be read here.
The Washington Winegrowers Association serves as the synergistic leader and unifying voice – through advocacy and education – for growers, vintners, partners, and policymakers.