MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The worst of California’s 23 large wildfires are burning in and around its famed wine country – in the hills and grasslands of the Sonoma and Napa valleys.
That is where at least a dozen wineries have been damaged or destroyed. As of Thursday, fire officials report 26 people dead and 65 square miles of California blackened or burning.
Edina native Dave Ready is head winemaker at Murphy-Good Winery in Santa Rosa. After evacuating staff from the facility early Monday, the nearby fire was stopped just east of the winery – across highway 101.
It was the same fire that claimed Paradise Ridge Winery a few miles away.
“The entire 2017 harvest is no longer,” its owner told reporters.
Meanwhile, the nearby Chanticleer Estate Wines remains in the path of several fires still burning out of control north of Napa. It’s owned by former Minnesotan George Grodahl.
“It’s terrible,” said Surdyk’s chief wine buyer, Andy Hall. “You know we have a lot of contacts out there.”
Hall knows families and staff of many of the wineries in the region very well. But he is deliberately not calling them because he knows they are dealing with evacuations and other problems.
For those vineyards and wineries hardest hit, it could take years to recover normal production.
“It’s capital intensive,” Hall said. “There’s a lot of land, there’s time to grow the vines. And when you lose these things it’s a huge loss of capitol.”
The grape vines themselves tend to resist fire, helping slow a fire’s spread. The grass between rows tends to be cut short.
Still, Hall doesn’t expect consumers here to see much change in California wine prices. He says wine producers tend to resist raising prices for fear of placing their wines in a price point they are not comfortable with.
But with multiple fires burning out of control, wine country remains shrouded in a smoky uncertainty — one that wine consumers hope ends soon and without further devastating losses.
In the words of one California firefighter: “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”