Wines & Vines Home
   
 
Welcome Guest
LOGIN |  CREATE ACCOUNT
 
ADVERTISEMENT
 
 
 
07.01.2008  
 

Dark Cloud Over California Growers

As nearly 1,500 fires burn across state, vineyard managers worry for vines

 
by Kate Lavin
 
 
The smoke returned to Londer Vineyards on Tuesday, a thick reminder of the fires that continue to burn over the ridge from California's Anderson Valley. Larry Londer had been optimistic air quality was improving the day before, when the haze seemed to recede above his Pinot and Gewürztraminer vines. But on July 1, the former physician ordered masks for everyone working in the vineyard, saying, "It's back again today. I think there's a flare-up on one of the roads just outside of Boonville."

Londer and his wife, Shirlee, found the property that is now home to Londer Vineyards in 1999, and Londer said he'd never seen smoke like this.

Assessing damage

According to Cal Fire statistics released Tuesday, 1,459 fires are burning in California, scorching more than 423,240 acres across the state. The flames represent one more blow to growers on the North Coast, where weeks of bitter frost earlier this year claimed thousands of vines in what growers are calling the worst frost seen in the area in the past 25 years.

See fire map

"This has been a relatively cool spring with a late bud break, and now with the fires, it kind of gives you a filtering effect from the sun," Londer said. "Things just get slower and slower. We're going to be picking in December."

Glenn McGourty, the University of California Cooperative Extension farm adviser for Mendocino and Lake counties, said, "This is not a year that we're going to remember fondly, between the 30 nights of frost protection…and all the freezing that we've had." McGourty likened the layer of smoke to a dense fog, adding that secondary buds already were three weeks behind when the smoke disrupted photosynthesis last week.

Martha Barra of Barra of Mendocino said she saw a fine layer of soot fall on the rows of Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel at her vineyard in Redwood Valley. But persistent winds blowing through the region seem to have cleaned the fruit of standing ash that blew over from fires in nearby Reeves Canyon and Greenfield Ranch.

Taking precautions

At Dunnewood Vineyards in Ukiah, management sent the entire staff home on June 26, because the visibility was so poor. "It was just not a situation where we wanted to have our employees stay," said vineyard manager George Phelan. "You could see smoke swirling even inside buildings." Dunnewood staff now is trying to keep the doors closed as much as possible while the air filters suck soot out of the air.

The crew at Londer Vineyards diligently has been mowing and clearing brush on the property ever since a dry lightning storm sparked fires across Mendocino County in late June. Every area of the vineyard has been mowed at least once more than is typical for the season.

Water levels for area ponds are significantly down, Londer said, because so many growers used water as frost protection this spring. "We've gone from ice to fire," he said. "It's like a science-fiction story."

Even more frightening for many vineyard owners is the fact that their non-vineyard neighbors likely aren't taking the same precautions on their own properties, and dry grass doesn't take much prompting to ignite. McGourty recommended that growers visit cemendocino.ucdavis.edu to read about more steps to take to mitigate the spread of fires.

The proof is in the pomace

While fighting back a fire is a daunting proposition, removing the taste and smell of fire from grape juice can be even more difficult. McGourty said that a few years ago, the property next to one vineyard in Northern California caught fire, and the grapes next door were indisputably damaged.

"It had such a strong bacon flavor that they had to dump the wine. You hate to see that happen," McGourty said. "You can pick up off flavors from the smoke, so that's one concern if it's really close."

Rhonda Smith, the UCCE farm adviser for Sonoma County, said such an occurrence is extremely rare. And Terry Rosetti, a wine industry consultant for Mendocino and Sonoma counties, said it's too early in the growing stage for berries to be effected by smoke. "The worst thing that's happened so far was last week we didn't have sunlight. It was like being in an artificial fog, so the sunlight was reduced" he said. "We might have lost a few growing days."

Fixing the problem

But Bob Kreisher of Memstar North America says that while one consumer might not taste the smoke taint in a wine, another could find it unpalatable. In the last seven years, Australia's wine industry has battled a serious problem with wildfire and smoke taint, Kreisher said. In 2003 and 2004, the Australian Wine Research Institute conducted a study that found measureable smoke taint in fruit that had been exposed to "high-intensity smoke" for between six and eight hours.

"Based on our experience in Australia, I would say it's almost certain that many of the vineyards (in California) have had" smoke exposure, Kreisher said.

Melbourne, Australia-based Memstar uses a two-step process to remove smoke taint from wines. Kreisher warns against using carbon to remove smoke taint in raw juice; it strips the juice of its character, and smoke taint will return later in the winemaking process, he said.

Kreisher will be speaking to the Sonoma County Vineyard Technical Group on July 10. "Our juice around here is too valuable to be dumping," he said.

Return to article
Dark Cloud Over California Growers
SHARE »
Close
 
Currently no comments posted for this article.
 
CURRENT NEWS INDEX »


 
Wines & Vines Home
 
866.453.9701 | 415.453.9700 | Fax: 415.453.2517
65 Mitchell Blvd., Ste. A San Rafael, CA 94903
info@winesandvines.com
Wine Industry Metrics
 
Off-Premise Sales » Month   12 Months  
October 2014 $570 million
6%
$7,775 million
6%
October 2013 $539 million $7,342 million
     
Direct-to-Consumer Shipments » Month   12 Months  
October 2014 $284 million
18%
$1,751 million
13%
October 2013 $240 million $1,556 million
     
Winery Job Index » Month   12 Months  
October 2014 139
6%
226
18%
October 2013 131 192
     
 
MORE » Released on 11.13.2014
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 

Practical Winery & Vineyard Library
 
Search the PWV archive »
 
 

Direct To Consumer
Wine Shipping Report
2014
 
Download full report »
 
 

CALENDAR
  • December 2-4
     
    Vinitech Sifel in Bordeaux
     
  • December 3
     
    Sustainable/Organic Wine Production Seminar
     
  • December 4
     
    North Coast Wine Industry Expo
     
  • December 6-7
     
    Wine Chemistry Workshop in Oregon
     
  • MORE »
 

READER COMMENTS
 
Article: Kluge Saga Continues in Virginia »
 
Not everybody likes Pat Kluge, but she and Moses built a first class winery /...
Reader: Josh Moser
 
Article: Canada Adapts to Kegged Wines »
 
I am a wine agent in Manitoba & there certainly are kegs of cider here....
Reader: Guest
 
Article: What's Your Winery's IP Worth? »
 
If you would like more information on this seminar please visit The Seminar Group's website....
Reader: Danielle Bingham
 
Article: DtC Is Lifeblood of Wineries, Banker Says »
 
Seems like another locical option would be to have more small niche distrbutors. Consolidation of...
Reader: Guest
 
Article: Tasting Wine From PD-Resistant Grapes »
 
Congratulations Andy! Lots of grapebreeders and southern growers will be looking through the catalogs. i...
Reader: Guest
 
 


Directory/Buyer's Guide — Your Wine Industry Marketplace
 
 
WINERY SEARCH
 
 
Advanced Search »
SUPPLIER SEARCH
   by Product
 by Company Name or Brand
 
Browse by Category »
2015 Directory/Buyer's Guide
The Wines & Vines Directory and Buyer's Guide
 
 
EXPANDED ONLINE SEARCH INCLUDED WITH PURCHASE
 
ORDER NOW »
 
LEARN MORE »
 
 
Wines & Vines Magazine
 
 
LEARN MORE »
 
SUBSCRIBE »
 
Digital Edition Now Available!
Wines & Vines Digital Edition Now Available
 
LEARN MORE »
 
ORDER NOW »
 
 
The Wines & Vines Online Marketing System
 
The Industry Standard winery marketing application
 
FREE LIVE DEMO »
 
VIEW VIDEO »
 
 
 
 
Latest Job Listings
 Tasting Room Position
 Sonoma, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Texas Area Manager
 Dallas, TX
Sales and Marketing
 Domaine Chandon On Cal...
 Yountville, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Cellar Worker Iii
 Yountville, CA
Winemaking and Production
 Wine Club & Dtc Manage...
 Glen Ellen, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Tasting Room/Events Ma...
 Placerville, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Bookkeeper
 Calistoga, CA
Finance
 Experienced Sales Mana...
 Fresno/Bakersfield Area, CA
Sales and Marketing
 Winemaker
 Oakville, CA
Winemaking and Production
 Accounts Payable/Accou...
 Napa, CA
Finance
 
More Job Listings >>
Follow Us On:
 
 





Home  |  About Us  |  Editors  |  Subscribe  |  Print Edition  |  Digital Edition

Advertise  |  Site Map  |  Contact Us  |  Privacy Policy
 
 
Copyright © 2001-2014 by Wine Communications Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
No material may be reproduced without written permission of the Publisher.
Wines&Vines does not assume any responsibility for any unsolicited manuscripts or materials.