SHUT DOWN

Many wineries suffered structural damage in the Napa Valley glass fire, but the smoke from the California wildfires could have more far-reaching consequences.

USA TODAY

Devastating fires on the west coast can cause long-term damage to the country’s wine supply and possibly lead to higher prices and less choice in the years to come.

The wildfires, some of which started in the spring and escalated in the summer, range from Washington to southern California. In California, which experienced a record-breaking wildfire season, 31 people were killed and more than 4 million acres were scorchedState officials said.

Most recently, the glass fire, which started a little over two weeks ago and is almost contained, according to state officials, threatened the Napa Valley wine region, destroying around 600 homes and other buildings, including wineries.

Aside from structural damage, smoke from the fires can cause the most long-lasting losses. Smoke can affect grapes and make any wine made from spoiled grapes drinkable, let alone sell it. According to WineAmerica: The National Association of American Wineries, California accounted for 85% of the wine produced in the US in 2018 – 684.9 million gallons.

Washington ranks second at about 2% and Oregon ranks fourth. New York is number 3 with around 0.7%.

The grapes for white wines and Pinot Noir were largely harvested before major brandies, said Gladys Horiuchi, head of media work at the Wine Institute in San Francisco. “The Reds, basically they’re about to find out.”

Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley together make up about 11% of California’s wine volume, she said. “The rest of the state is virtually untouched,” said Horiuchi.

Consumers shouldn’t worry about wine supply or wine quality, she said. “There might not be that many brands in particular, but as far as wine is available it won’t be a problem,” Horiuchi said.

Speaking of consumer concerns about wine quality, she said, “Wineries are simply not going to risk their reputation by producing wine that is not of the quality that consumers have expected.”

Others in the wine community have concerns about what’s on offer and possible pricing. It’s impossible to quantify how much wine will be made from this year’s harvest, as winemakers face hurdles when testing their grapes for quality.

Laboratories testing crops for smoke pollution are inundated with submissions. This is how winegrowers and wineries decide whether to harvest grain and who bears the costs should the grain be spoiled.

“People don’t know what to do,” said John Aguirre, president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers. “We do not currently have any data on the amount of grapes that were not harvested due to smoke exposure concerns, but I can tell you that this is very important.”

The situation is so dire that the coastal states are seeking federal disaster relief for wine growers. “All winemakers on the west coast fear the challenges posed by these forest fires and smoke exposure,” said Aguirre, whose association is among those who have signed a letter to the region’s congress delegation.

Many wineries are “still in the process of evaluating the potential effects of smoke on their grapes,” said the Napa Valley Vintners, who represent 550 Napa Valley wineries, in a statement sent to the US TODAY. “Although it’s too early to predict the extent of the damage smoke and forest fires will have in the 2020 vintage, the harvest will be less than usual.”

Will consumers see higher prices?

The year started with a surplus of wine, Aguirre said, then the coronavirus pandemic put a cork on sale in restaurants, bars and sports venues. Home consumption has increased, but how sales will balance out remains to be seen.

“Ultimately, less wine will be made, but I don’t realize prices will go up,” he said.

Others said higher prices are more likely. 2017 fires that resulted in crop losses will put pressure on wine supplies, said Alex Andrews, owner of Personal Wine (personalwine.com), a winery and retailer Specialized in wine gifts and personalization.

“Anytime you have a catastrophic loss twice in five years, it affects everything,” he said. “They are definitely starting to raise the price now.”

“It’s pretty devastating”: Glass fire affects California’s Napa Valley wineries

Washington: The winemakers in the Willamette Valley strive to calculate the smoke damage to the grapes

SHUT DOWN

Fremont Fire Department Engine 558 firefighters rescued an American flag from the flames at Fairwinds Estate Winery in Calistoga, California.

Storyful

Wineries are likely to raise the prices of their vintage library wines by maybe 20% and keep the prices of future releases at 10% to 15%, Andrews said. The need to raise prices is exacerbated by tariffs on supplies like glass for wine bottles, much of which are made in China and Mexico, he said.

Less Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is likely to emerge from the 2020 crop, said Neil Kaplan, attorney and managing partner of Cork Counsel, who provides winery appraisals and other collector services.

“That could spark interest in the newer vintages,” said Kaplan. “There are reports that are so bad that 80% of Napa taxis won’t be made this year.” I think that’s probably a bit high. But the glass fire, especially in northern Napa, was awful, and half of Napa is Cabernet. “

Instead of an expected surplus on the mass wine market, “everything went out of the window,” he said. “So where we thought we were going to see a reduction, we actually see price increases.”

Still, the average consumer doesn’t have to worry, Kaplan said. “In general, I’m rarely the one to advise people to rush to do something, especially depending on how global your view of wine is,” he said.

“Napa is very important in California and very important in the US, but there’s a big world of wine out there,” Kaplan said. “Of course, if you focus entirely on the Napa cab, you may have to react. But the world is full of great wines and there are plenty of them.”

Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.

Automatic playback

Show thumbnails

Show subtitles

Last slideNext slide

Read or share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/10/15/wine-shortage-glass-fire-wildfire-smoke-may-hit-supply-hike-prices/5869025002 /