Wildfires + Wine – Concerns for Napa, Columbia Gorge, Portugal & Spain

2017 has felt like the Wine World has been on fire. The apocalyptic fires that were witnessed in Portugal and the Napa wine regions were horrific.  Both fires claimed over 40 lives, many homes and decimated the livelihoods of the wine region.  Both of these fires are thought to have been sparked by high winds in very dry conditions.

September’s Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia Gorge region of Oregon and the wildfire in the Galicia region of Spain are both to have been caused by humans. Oregon’s fire was thought to have been sparked by a teenager with fireworks and Spain’s fire by an arsonist.

Image from Wildfires Today Website – Bill Gabbert’s Sept. 6th Post “Eagle Creek fire burns structures and forces evacuations along the Columbia River Gorge”

Read more on the fires in Portugal and Spain in Amanda Barnes Oct. 19, 2017 post for Decanter – “Deadly fires hit wine regions in Spain and Portugal

However wildfires start, the end result is the same destruction of years of hard work and the loss of life. 

This amazingly detailed map of the fast moving Tubbs Fire’s spread starts with the circle on the right about 9:43pm on Oct. 8th.  The first arching circle line drawn in brown is approximately how far the wildfire had spread by 10:30pm. The third arch denotes 11:00pm. The next arches are on the hour at 12pm, 1am, 2am & 3am. For a more detailed view go directly to the New York Times article “How California’s Most Destructive Wildfire Spread, Hour by Hour.”

The New York Times shared this map detailing the fire’s spread by the hour. Deadly wildfire spread mapped.

What Next? After Wildfires …

Assessing the damages can be as challenging as containing the wildfire. 

There is no way to calculate the cost of the lives lost. That is beyond human abilities. We grieve and do our best to move on while remembering the contributions those who were lost made to our lives.

We can assess is the loss of property and productivity because it is measurable. That is what all four of these regions are working to accomplish now.

As I researched for this blog post, I came across an excellent in depth post shared by Wine Spectator. They added a special discussion to their Oct. 21st New York Wine Experience event’s topics line up to address the impact of the wildfires in the greater Napa region. For deeper details read their entire post at Wine Country Strong: After the fires, Napa and Sonoma Look Ahead.

Barbara Banke, head of Jackson Family Wines, spoke and said she was personally shaken by the fires because she had to evacuate her Sonoma home twice because of them. “Fortunately, vineyards make good fire breaks,” Banke added. “A lot of the fires went right up to the outside of the vineyards. The Pocket fire [near Geyserville in Sonoma County] stopped right at the vineyard’s edge. … The fire didn’t come down into Alexander Valley, which would have been devastating; it didn’t come into Geyserville; it didn’t come into Healdsburg.”

This discussion group moderator was Wine Spectator’s senior editor John Laube. He made some insightful statements that I would like to quote here. “This is a story of human loss,” said Laube. “The vineyards and wineries were really just barely touched, nicked, more than wounded. It’s the people who lived in Santa Rosa in Sonoma, and in Napa, who lost their homes that is going to create the biggest hardship. Where are these people going to live? Where are they going to work? Those are big, big questions.”

Existing Challenges Become Larger After Wildfires Impact the Wine Region

Affordable housing for wine industry workers has long been an issue for the Napa area. The loss of these homes will impact the area for years to come. FEMA is working to bring in “Katrina cabins” to assist with temporary housing.

“There was already a housing shortage in Northern California,” said Shanken. “[It was] hard to buy homes, rent homes—and now we had 100,000 people evacuated, thousands of homes lost. What can be done? How long will it take? Rebuilding thousands of homes will take many years and untold sums of money.”

Read more from the Wine Spectator’s “Wine Country Strong: After the Fires, Napa and Sonoma Look Ahead

With hospitals and care centers threatened or burned by wildfire, healthcare will be even more scarce. With electricity and services cut to these vital support centers for a long period of time, that limits care both long and short term for everyone.

Electricity, cell service and everyday amenities we take for granted are not working. With so much infrastructure destroyed alongside the homes and wineries, it will be a long while before these town residents’ lives return to “normal.”

What about the Fire’s Impact on the Grapes & the Wine?

Much has been speculated on the impact of the wildfires on the region’s wines. The timing of the fire was the best part of the ordeal. 99% of the grapes had been harvested. The remaining grapes awaiting harvest were cabernet grapes. They are known for their thick skins and it is unlikely that they will suffer from “smoke taint” according to most experienced vintners’ assessments. (For a detailed chemical analyst’s viewpoint, read “The Effects of Bottle Aging on Smoke Taint Characteristics in Wino” by Becca for the Academic Wino’s Oct. 19th post.)

The loss of electricity and having to evacuate workers from the wineries during fermentation may be of greater impact as wine damages are assessed. Did the fermentation processes run amok due to a lack of supervision and temperature control? How much of previous vintages was loss to heat exposure? These are questions whose answers are still being assessed by impacted wineries.

Certainly the loss of the several wineries will be felt in all four of these regions. The owners of most of the burned wineries are vowing to rebuild. Amidst their own tragedies, these vintners are concerned for the welfare of others in their area.

One such winery owner, Michael Patland, is inspiring as he is concerned with others shortly after his family’s winery, Patland, was lost to the fires. Watch for yourself and read more of their family’s experience with the Atlas Peak fire in his Oct. 14th post – Patland Vineyards and the Atlas Peak Fire on their website.


The long term economic impact of the wildfires continues to ripple through this agriculturally based area dependent on wine tourism. Their collective spirits remain admirably strong among the ashes of their wineries and lost vineyards.

How Can We Help? Donate & Be a Tourist!

If you are interested in helping the California victims, donations are still being accepted.  Wine Enthusiast shared a long list of organizations who are there helping the fire victims that you can support in “How to Help Victims of the Fires in Northern California.” If you are able to help, we urge you to do so.

Being a winery tourist is a way of helping the Napa region following the fires.

The San Francisco Herald shared recently, Oct. 21st, a listing of who in the wine region is ready to receive tourists again – “Here are the Open Wineries in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties.” Those who have not lost their homes are losing their livelihoods with tourism dismal as folks avoid traveling to the greater Napa area.

Go experience the indomitable spirits of the Napa, Columbia Gorge, Galicia and Portugal’s wine regions when you are looking for something to do.

While researching this Wildfires + Wine blog post, I was both deeply saddened at the loss of so much in all four of these wine regions and inspired by the spirits of those impacted. Our CKJY Exports Team will do our best to support our wineries in this area and to bolster sales of their remaining wines. Sharing their wine and their spirits is the least we can do to help them rebuild following such wide scale destruction.

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