California in Flames

Growers and winemakers have dodged the massive Lake County fire … so far
California in Flames
The Rocky Fire in Lake County has proved difficult to contain. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat/AP)
Aug 4, 2015

If you watch the news, it looks like the entire state of California is on fire. It's a bad wildfire season, to be sure, thanks largely to a record-breaking drought. There are now more than 20 active, large fires, the largest of which is the Rocky Fire in Lake County, just north of Napa Valley.

So far the Rocky Fire has scorched 65,000 acres and destroyed 24 homes. It was only 12 percent contained on Tuesday and Cal Fire doesn't expect to have it contained for at least week. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency.

Grapegrowers and winemakers have been lucky so far, although they're keeping an eye on the skies. Only Six Sigma Winery, according to media reports, was part of an evacuated area, but there was no property damage. The fire also forced the closing of a section of Highway 20, effectively blocking access to some other area wineries.

Napa-based grower Andy Beckstoffer has 1,500 acres planted in Lake County's Red Hills and has been keeping a close watch on the blaze. "The fire is south and east of Clear Lake and all of Red Hill is on the west side of the lake," Beckstoffer said. "The wind is blowing east now so it looks like it's going the right way for us."

A dramatic shift in wind direction or an extended heat spike could change everything. Of course, a few nice inches of rain would help, although that might not be good for the vineyards at this point in the season.

The location of the fire is both good and bad. It's good because it's a sparsely populated area, and bad because the terrain is so rugged and mountainous that firefighters struggle to gain access to it. Tanker planes and helicopters are working to douse it but, that said, 3,100 firefighters are on the job.

Smoke taint remains a possible concern. Grapes have a way of absorbing smoky qualities if exposed to smoke for extended periods. As any winemaker who harvested grapes from Mendocino after the big blaze of 2008 can tell you, that taint often makes it into the wine.

In Red Hills, at least, the smoke has been minimal, so Beckstoffer isn't worried.

It's still early in the wildfire season in California, unfortunately. A lot can still happen. For now, growers are crossing their fingers, hoping to make it through harvest, then the predicted El Niño rains might finally save the day.

Harvest Disasters Fires 2015 News

You Might Also Like

Zachys Auctions Rare Wines from Italy's Enoteca Pinchiorri

Zachys Auctions Rare Wines from Italy's Enoteca Pinchiorri

The 2,500-bottle consignment from the Grand Award–winning restaurant fetched $4.1 million, …

Sep 22, 2020
'Drink the Best in House Arrest' Wins Wine Spectator's 2020 Video Contest

'Drink the Best in House Arrest' Wins Wine Spectator's 2020 Video Contest

The Campione family members get their first win, and share the inspiration for their …

Sep 22, 2020
Vintner Diego Planeta, Who Helped Put Sicilian Wine on the Map, Dies at 80

Vintner Diego Planeta, Who Helped Put Sicilian Wine on the Map, Dies at 80

As head of a vintners' cooperative and later as founder of his family winery, Planeta …

Sep 21, 2020
His Dream Is Now Ours: Legendary Vineyard Manager Ulises Valdez Sr.'s Children Carry on His Legacy

His Dream Is Now Ours: Legendary Vineyard Manager Ulises Valdez Sr.'s Children Carry on His Legacy

In vineyards across Sonoma and at Valdez Family Wines, Valdez Sr.'s widow and four children …

Sep 18, 2020
Restaurant Award Winners That Have Permanently Closed During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Restaurant Award Winners That Have Permanently Closed During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A running list of wine-focused dining spots that have been forced to shut for good as the …

Aug 14, 2020
Does This Glass of Beer Make Me Look Fat?

Does This Glass of Beer Make Me Look Fat?

A new study finds wine drinkers had lower body mass indexes than those who avoid alcohol, …

Sep 16, 2020