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Impacts of wildfires on wine industry could be felt for years to come

Posted at 12:11 PM, Oct 05, 2020

It’s harvest time for the wine industry on California’s Central Coast.

At Wolff Vineyards in Edna Valley, owner Jean-Pierre Wolff is dealing with all kinds of issues.

“Today in my vineyard, it’s over 100 degrees,” he said. “The impacts of the fires and the smoke taint really add another level of challenge.”

These environmental challenges are now costing Wolff financially. Some customers canceled their orders because of concerns about nearby wildfires impacting his grapes.

“Negative effects can manifest themselves later on after fermentation and during barrel aging,” Wolff said. “So, they basically backed out of agreements.”

Millions of acres have recently burned across California, Oregon and Washington, areas that produce 85% of the country’s wine.

“It’s the first time in recent history that fires have impacted so many different wine grape growing regions,” said Anita Oberholster, Ph.D. with the University of California, Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology.

She says America’s wine tourism is already struggling due to COVID-19 and that these fires could cost the industry even more through job loss and damaged products.

“The problem with this year is the fires started much earlier than our harvest season,” Oberholster said. “About 10% of the grapes have been harvested and the rest were still on the vine. 2020 is not our year.”

For many wineries, smoke taint of grapes is so severe, there might not be a 2020 vintage.

“The 2020 vintage is going to be one where we’ll have a limited amount of high-quality wines,” Wolff said.

While Wolff is working to keep his products from going down the drain and letting his wine go to waste, he says many in the industry are dealing with fire fatigue and that an increase in cost linked to these fires could be felt in years to come.

“2023 probably particularly with reds is when impacts will be felt,” he said. “We’ll bounce back, but we’ll be a little black and blue.”