As wildfires continue to ravage California’s famous Napa and Sonoma wine regions, the industry is still reeling.
With 31 dead and thousands of homes lost, it will still be days before the total extent of the damage is known. What is clear, however, is that entire neighborhoods, wineries and businesses have simply disappeared in waves of fast-moving fires.
Wildfires happen every year and the devastation is, in some ways, tragically familiar to the West Coast. But fires of this magnitude are unprecedented in the state’s famed wine region, which are generally free of natural dangers.
It’s hard to describe the full scope of the destruction, but, according to news reports, several dozen wineries have been completely destroyed or hurt by the fires. (In fact, so dire is the situation that it proved nearly impossible to locate sources in order to check in on their vineyards and their wellbeing.)
Photographs of the devastation are heart breaking. Take this before and after shot from Signorello Vineyards.
Paradise Ridge shared images of the remains of its winery earlier this week on Facebook.
One potential silver lining appears to be that vineyards may have actually stunted the fires’ growth in certain areas. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Fire officials have said they considered the relatively open space of vineyards, which hold more moisture than oak forests, to be a natural firebreak that allowed their forces to concentrate on protecting populated areas and structures.” In some locations, the fire simply stopped on those property lines.
Though the vines may have been saved from flames, the crops are a somewhat different story. The Sacramento Bee reported Wednesday that, while a heat spike over Labor Day weekend caused many vintners to harvest substantial volumes of grapes early, “The priciest grapes are the ones [like cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah], by and large, that are still on the vine… Napa cabernet sauvignon grapes sell for about $6,800 a ton, among the highest price paid for grapes anywhere on earth.”
Of course even the wineries where grapes haven’t been damaged by the fires could lose their crops. Smoke and heat damage can affect vines even if they’re not directly scorched by spreading wildfires.
Unfortunately, that damage is hard to assess while the fires rage on—as well as whether it will all be felt in the 2018 harvests and beyond. The information available leaves significant holes, partly because some winery owners won’t know how bad the damage is until they’re able to return, and partly because as fires continue sweeping the area, residents are having trouble getting cell and internet service just to make contact. The total devastation will, however, be undeniably horrific.