West Coast Wildfires Devastate Heart Of California's Wine Industry

Posted: Oct 05, 2020

For the first time in its 46-year history, Alexander Eisele’s Napa Valley vineyard won’t turn the grapes it grows into wine this fall.

Mr. Eisele’s scorched and smoke-damaged grapes are part of the toll from the record start to wildfire season this year in the American West. More than 7.6 million acres have burned and 40 people have died. Many agricultural businesses have been affected as well, particularly vineyards in Northern California and Oregon that produce some of the premier wines in a U.S. industry whose worth analysts put at a little more than $70 billion.

“Losing the entire year for a family operation, it’s devastating,” said Mr. Eisele, who evacuated on Monday due to wildfire threat for the second time in a month.

As oak trees still smolder on his property, Mr. Eisele said he is beginning to tally the losses at his vineyard, which range from melted hoses to Cabernet vines that burned after decades of bearing fruit. Grape vines can cost up to $40,000 an acre to replace, and wine produced from the grapes of newer vines is usually lower quality and less valuable than that made from grapes of older vines.

Even before this year’s wildfires, an oversupply of grapes from a bumper harvest in 2018 had pressured prices for the fruit, and the coronavirus pandemic has slashed wine sales to restaurants and shut down tasting rooms.

Wine-industry consultant Jon Moramarco estimated that smoke from wildfires could cost vineyard owners in Napa up to half of their red-wine crops.

Duff Bevill, who manages 1,500 acres of vineyards in Sonoma County for others and grows his own wine-grapes, said that he might not be able to sell 50% of the crop he oversees and that losses for his vineyard clients could reach into the millions. Many wine-grape producers carry some crop insurance, but none would be made whole by their claims, he said.

“No one dreamed that in the middle of August we’d have fires so extensive,” Mr. Bevill said. “We all know better now.”

By Jesse Newman and Donald Morrison
Source and complete article by: wsj.com

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