Wildfires Once Again Threaten Sonoma Vineyards

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This week, wildfires are once again ravaged Northern California and Sonoma’s celebrated wineries once again came under direct threat from the flames. At press time, several of the wineries in the Geyserville, Sonoma area were inaccessible due to the fire. However, early reports indicate that most winemaking properties were spared.

The Kincade Fire started on Thursday (10.24) and quickly engulfed 21,900 acres of Sonoma County in flame according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire). The agency reported that as of press time only 1,095 acres (about 5%) of the blaze was contained.

CalFire ordered mandatory evacuations in Geyserville, Cloverdale Geysers Rd, Geysers Rd, Red Winery Rd, Alexander Mountain Rd, and Pine Flat Rd. All roads east of Highway 128 to Geyserville were also ordered closed.

In wine terms, the fire is pushing at the edge of both Geyserville and the overlapping Alexander Valley “AVA”. 

On Thursday, the inferno crept onto the grounds of Geyserville’s Robert Young Estate Winery, burning bush and pastures. However, the structures on the property escaped the blaze unharmed.

“The past 24 hours have been tense for our family, and our friends and neighbors in Alexander Valley,” the Youngs said in a statement. “We feel extremely fortunate that as of now, the winery and family homes on the property are safe.”

Firefighter take a hard-earned break at Young after some intense work. [Courtesy Young Winery]

The Francis Ford Coppola Winery reported that they were so far safe from the nearby fire. Yet, they closed the winery on Friday due to air quality concerns stemming from the immense amount of smoke and ash in the air.

Drawing upon the lessons of the 2017 Wine Country Fires and the 2017 Mendocino Complex Fires, many wineries are crediting their vineyards with offering protection. The relatively “cleared” nature of the vines coupled with the high moisture content in grapes and vines is believed to provide a buffer against flames.

Of course, the majority of the credit for protecting the properties is due to the firefighters working around the clock.

CalFire stated that 1300 personnel are deployed across 38 crews to battle the blaze. 77 fire engines, 32 dozers, 12 helicopters, and 10 water tenders are aiding in the effort.

Complicating the affair, PG&E, California’s utility “deenergized” (shut down) the lines in the area.

Still, all is not doom and gloom for the local wine industry. Fortunately, most of the vineyards in the affected portion of Sonoma reported that their harvest are already complete or are virtually complete. With the wine into fermentation already, there are still some concerns. However, the worst scenario, a lost harvest, appeared to be dodged. Likewise, while risks of smoke taint remains, with the grapes in the tanks, not the vines, careful work should help minimize this risk.

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