California Wildfires Continue to Ravage; Devastating Damage to the State’s Wine Country

TOPSHOT - The remains of a golf cart burned by the Glass Fire sits next to a vineyard at Calistoga Ranch in Calistoga, Napa Valley, California on September 30, 2020. - Two California wildfires that ravaged Napa's famous wine region and killed three people exploded in size Tuesday as firefighters …
SAMUEL CORUM/AFP via Getty Images

The statistics of the wildfire season in the western United States are grim: 7.4 million acres have been charred and 40 people have perished. And this year, California’s premier wine industry is also a victim.

The Wall Street Journal interviewed winemaker Alexander Eisele, whose winery is in the state’s Napa Valley. For the first time in 46 years, his vineyard won’t turn the grapes into wine this season. 

“Losing the entire year for a family operation, it’s devastating,” Eisele, who evacuated on Monday for the second time in a month, said in the Journal report.

The Journal reported on the destruction and economic impact on the industry:

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 of older fruit.

At least 14 wineries have reported damage to vineyards or buildings in this week’s 48,440-acre Glass Fire, according to social-media posts.

Stephanie Honig, whose family vineyard and winery produce Honig wines, said the fires that began Sunday forced the winery to cancel plans to produce a Cabernet for the first time in 40 years.

“We’re not going to take the chance of being smoke-tainted,” Honig, who sells wine to restaurants and supermarkets including Amazon.com Inc.’s Whole Foods Market and Albertsons Cos.’s Safeway, said.

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

The vineyards’ destruction also affects workers who harvest the grapes and who can earn twice as much as other farmworkers, according to the United Farm Workers labor union.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported on Thursday that the advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate in California was 8.1 percent for the week ending September 19.

California has the fifth highest overall unemployment rate of any U.S. state at 11.4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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