Fire and Smoke Added to Unified Program

Sessions at Unified Wine & Grape Symposium pivot to current industry priorities

by Kate Lavin
wine  wineries vineyards fire land unified symposium
Two sessions at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium will deal with fire and disaster preparedness.

San Rafael, Calif.—Nearly everyone in California’s North Coast winegrowing region was affected in some way by the firestorm ignited Oct. 8. Lise Asimont, director of grower relations for Francis Ford Coppola Winery, was no exception. Four grapegrowers who sell fruit to Coppola were in the fire zone and had fruit still hanging on the vines at the time of the fires.

“At one vineyard, it burned right up to the acreage. It was at the gates, if you will,” Asimont told Wines & Vines. “We couldn’t get to them, and it was so frustrating and scary.”

Asimont said the growers in that case were eventually allowed back to the vineyard, where they rinsed ash off the grapes and were able to harvest the rest of the crop, which Coppola gladly accepted. Similar situations played out differently across the region, however, with some wineries refusing grapes and others having no winery at which to crush fruit, either due to fire damage or road closures.

The situation prompted Asimont, who also serves as program development chair for the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, and other committee members to reconsider the schedule for the annual event taking place Jan. 23-25, 2018—quite a feat considering harvest was still in progress and some members of the program development committee were under evacuation.

Come January, Unified attendees will have the option of attending two breakout sessions developed in response to the wildfires: one about disaster preparedness and recovery geared toward business and operations professionals, and another titled Wildfires and Wine: Loss Prevention, Mitigation and Management, which is part of the winemaking track.

Be ready: disaster preparedness and recovery
The business and operations session about disaster preparedness is scheduled for Jan. 25 at 1:15 p.m. Asimont said the experience of living through the firestorm made it clear how important it is to be prepared for any kind of disaster, whether it be flood, fire, earthquake or hailstorm. Insurance experts who spoke with Wines & Vines in the days after the fires began stressed the importance of having copies of insurance policies and providing insurance agents with up-to-date contact information in case of displacement.

The winemaking session related to the wildfires will be the final breakout session of the symposium, taking place Jan. 25 at 2:30 p.m. Tom Collins and Jim Harbertson from Washington State University are developing the session. Collins already has started collecting samples of wine made from grapes exposed to fire as part his research, for which he created hoop houses in 2016 and exposed fruit to smoke in that controlled environment.

To learn more about the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, or to register, visit unifiedsymposium.org. Members of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture and the California Association of Winegrape Growers are eligible for discounted registration. Prices are at their lowest before Jan. 16.


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