Local Wineries Survive and Thrive Despite Fires

By Jennifer Shields

Wildfires are nothing new to California, but the devastation they wreak on the local wine industry seems to grow every year. 2020 has proved no different.

Even after the lightning-sparked fires were contained, air quality remained terrible in almost every part of the Bay Area, which made it additionally hard for wineries and other dining businesses to stay open. Since Covid, most restaurants are only open for outdoor seating, and the poor air quality often prevents them from doing business. This has been especially hard for wineries that now can’t even conduct tastings outside.

The poor air quality also affected the grape harvest, meaning next year’s wine sales will be affected, too. Laina Brown from St. Clair Brown Winery & Brewery said their winery was not affected directly by the fires, but warned that this is going to be a taxing harvest season for many of their neighbors.

“Our vineyards are predominantly in the Coombsville region, which was not affected by the fires,” Brown said. “We feel for all of the growers and vintners in the fire-impacted areas, as we dealt with that in 2017. Our thoughts are with everyone during this challenging harvest season.”

Shadybrook Estate Winery is one of the wineries affected. Part of the North Bay landscape since 2010, it experienced the 2017 fires. The main difference in how the 2017 fires and this year’s fires have affected the wineries is their timing in the harvest season. The 2017 fires occurred later in the harvest season, when most wineries had already harvested all of their crop. Because this year’s fires occurred in the middle of the harvest, they will have a much greater impact. 

Yet Eric Felton, director of sales at Shadybrook Estate Winery, commented on how the current fires are, overall, not as devastating as the 2017 fires.

“This fire was much slower moving because the winds were modest and average as opposed to violent, and the fire in Napa right now stayed on the outside of Napa,” Felton said. “It stayed in the Valley and it stayed around Lake Berryessa and it stayed to the east. It never really came too close to the Valley itself.”

While most of California is dealing with the worst fires they’ve ever seen, for most of Napa right now the biggest issue is dealing with smoke. 

“The winery has had to suspend tastings and close our doors due to hazardous, smokey conditions,” Felton said. “Because of the combination of Covid and the smoke issue, we can’t host any tastings indoors, and if everything’s outside and the smoke conditions are hazardous, then we have to stop our operations.”

Once the smoke clears, wineries will reopen for outside tastings. And for anyone concerned about the quality of the harvest and the wine that will be bottled for next season, Shadybrook and other wineries vow not to put quantity over quality.

“It’s a little too soon to say whether the smoke will have any effect on the quality of our harvest,”  Felton said. “Shadybrook and most wineries like Shadybrook, we’re not going to put anything in the bottle that is not up to the level of what we’ve come to expect.”

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