Deadly fires are ravaging California’s wine country. From what I understand over +110,000 acres across California’s wine country has been torched. Firefighting crews are said to be currently fighting 17 wildfires. The winds have recently slowed down from the 50-60 mph gust that were being reported the past few days, which is giving the crews an opportunity to slow down the spreading fires. The pace of the burn took firefighters by surprise: The fires torched 20,000 acres in about 12 hours Monday, which Cal Fire’s Cox called “a phenomenal rate of growth.” Ten people from California’s wine country have been reported dead, hundreds are reported missing and thousands have had to evacuate. Nearly all of these fires are in the Sonoma and Napa counties, the heartland of the state’s renowned wine industry. Napa and Sonoma counties, the source of some of the country’s best wines, has more than 100,000 acres of wine grapes and are home to more than 650 wineries, according to the Wine Institute. The historic Gundlach Bundschu winery in Sonoma County caught fire, according to Elizabeth Bunch-Mooney. She posted on Facebook: “It is with great sadness that the oldest California family owned winery in California has burned.” Paradise Ridge Winery in Sonoma burned down on Monday. Several reports claimed Kenwood winery Chateau St. Jean also burnt to the ground Monday. The Redwood Valley fire in Mendocino County has claimed at least three wineries: Frey Vineyards; the small, family-owned Golden Vineyards and Oster Wine Cellars. I’ve also heard speculation the Atlas Peak, Soda Canyon and Stag’s Leap wine growing districts are in big trouble, perhaps also negatively impacting winery’s like Chimney Rock, E&J Gallo, William Hill, Signorello Vineyard and Rutherford Hill. Luckily the harvest has been underway and a majority of the crop might be out of harms way. Unfortunately, grape varieties ripen at different times, so there could certainly be some significant holes in supply. Many insiders say grapes that survive the fires could absorb a smokey flavor from the air and might not be able to be used. European wine prices may also see a hefty price hike as wine makers try to deal with the worst grape harvest in some 36 years. Experts in France have warned it could be the smallest harvest since the end of the Second World War. Vines were damaged by hail and frost in the spring, then ravaged by a summer drought. The French agriculture ministry said output was expected to total 37.2m hectolitres – 18% less than 2016 and 17% below the average over the past five years. They expect a -40% drop in output from the prime wine-growing region of Bordeaux, the country’s largest. Some losses are also anticipated in the Burgundy region, where vines have been repeatedly hit by hail in recent years. There was an equally gloomy picture in Italy, as well as Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Hungary. Frost damage is estimated to have dented harvest prospects by 30% to 60% in some areas. Italy’s prime wine regions suffered from this summer’s heatwave, which was so brutal and relentless it garnered the nickname “Lucifer”. Wine production is expected to drop up to 15% nationwide. Some parts of Italy also had vines destroyed by hailstorms in April. Philippe de Cantenac, a specialist writer for La Revue du Vin de France says many vineyard owners were already short of money after a series of poor harvests over the past few seasons. One measure winemakers are expected to adopt is raising prices, though wine experts say they will have to strike a delicate balance. Wine drinkers in countries such as Britain and the U.S. can easily turn to bottles from countries such as Chile or Argentina. There are also some regions in Europe where wine grape production is expected to be much better. Portugal, which has experienced drought conditions in some regions this year, is predicting a 10% increase from last year, while Austria, which also suffered frost damage last year, is expecting a 23% in 2017. One of the biggest increases in production is expected from Romania, which is expecting this year’s harvest to be +35% over the five-year average. All-in-all, consumers will still have plenty of options for affordable, quality wine. However, some of the upper-end European vintages and California favorites may be tough to come by and possibly worth tracking down for investment purposes once they begin rolling out this year’s production. (Sources: Daily Mail, Reuters)
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