Amid a long year for the wine industry when it came to environmental disasters, tragedy struck Northern California in October when a particularly terrible wildfire wreaked havoc all across the region. At the time, there was much reporting on the subject, and a great concern that the wine industry there would be irreparably ruined. According to a recently released impact report from Sonoma State University’s Wine Business Institute, however, all does not seem to be lost.
Despite over three billion dollars in damages that occurred in the area, Sonoma State observes that the most immediate impact to the California winemakers was only the slowdown in tourism. The survey from the university found a drop in October’s tasting-room traffic compared with the previous year, but that November’s volume of winery visitors was closer to normal. 62% of the wineries reported a drop in tasting-room sales, but three quarters of respondents said that online sales were equal to or higher than last year’s. Extensive media coverage of the disaster likely impacted tourism, as respondents reported that the number of out-of-state visitors declined significantly following the wildfires.
Luckily though, by October most of the year’s grapes had already been harvested and were fermenting by the time the fire came. Additionally, many vineyards were used as firebreaks during the blaze. This saved much of the year’s wine and the structures that make it. In fact, the report said that 99.8% of vineyard acres in the region were unaffected, 90% of affected vineyards would not need to be replanted or replaced, and 93% of wineries did not sustain structural damage and are not facing long-term negative impacts.
It goes without saying that the optimism of this early assessment is a huge relief for everyone affected, from the winemakers to the wine drinkers. Now that they are able to look ahead though, many in the industry are worried that consumers will think the 2017 wines have been damaged by smoke or that the fires mean that fewer wines were made. While it’s not yet clear if wines made from grapes that were exposed to smoke have been impacted, the majority of grapes were harvested before the fires and should be fine. Plus, the harvest was a large one, meaning there will be plenty of wines available.