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No 'wildfire vintage' here: Winemakers move to blunt risks posed by West Coast fires

Brooke DiPalma
·Associate Producer
·2 mins read

Wildfires continue to ravage the west coast, prompting nearly 70,000 people to evacuate Northern California’s wine country, and forcing many winemakers in recent years to adapt.

“Unfortunately, we're getting a little bit used to dealing with fire smoke,” Tom Danowski, Oregon Wine Board president and CEO, told Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade in an interview.

Still, “it has been a phenomenon that has affected all three main wine producing states on the west coast, Washington, Oregon, California,” he added, and the industry has risen to the challenge.

In the state of Oregon alone, there are 1,297 vineyards and 908 wineries. In 2019, Oregon wineries stretched across 37,399 acres of land, produced 105,586 tons of grapes and brought in a whopping $237.8 million dollars.

The vast array of wineries in the state are most well known for the pinot noir grape; while they include larger wineries like Willamette Valley Vineyards (WVVI), many are smaller, family-owned.

And yet, despite the devastating impact of the wildfires on the region, the fine wine consumer will likely never taste the impact, Danowski insisted.

An orange smoke-filled sky is seen above a vineyard in Molalla, Oregon, on September 10, 2020, as fires burn nearby. - California firefighters battled the state's largest ever inferno on September 10, as tens of thousands of people fled blazes up and down the US West Coast and officials warned the death toll could shoot up in coming days. At least eight people have been confirmed dead in the past 24 hours across California, Oregon and Washington, but officials say some areas are still impossible to reach, meaning the number is likely to rise. (Photo by Deborah BLOOM / AFP) (Photo by DEBORAH BLOOM/AFP via Getty Images)
An orange smoke-filled sky is seen above a vineyard in Molalla, Oregon, on September 10, 2020, as fires burn nearby. - California firefighters battled the state's largest ever inferno on September 10, as tens of thousands of people fled blazes up and down the US West Coast and officials warned the death toll could shoot up in coming days. At least eight people have been confirmed dead in the past 24 hours across California, Oregon and Washington, but officials say some areas are still impossible to reach, meaning the number is likely to rise. (Photo by Deborah BLOOM / AFP) (Photo by DEBORAH BLOOM/AFP via Getty Images)

“Winemakers have a number of things they can do to deal with smoke affected grapes,” Danowski stated. “They can adjust fermentation temperatures, they can adjust barrel aging regimes for wines.”

And if the wine doesn’t taste perfect after these protocols are taken, the batches simply won’t be released.

“Every winemaker knows the repetitional risk that could come from releasing a wine that isn't ready for the marketplace,” Danowski explained.

“It is very top of mind for winemakers to be very conscious and so the consumer is unlikely to experience any wines that are exhibiting smoke characteristics,” he added.

Despite some winemakers’ potential decision to not release what some have called the “wildfire vintage” of the West Coast, there should be plenty of options on the shelves across the nation.

“It should not mean significant reductions in inventory,” Danowski added. “What it will probably mean is that there might will be some more white wines available to the consumer.”

Brooke DiPalma is a producer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @BrookeDiPalma.

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