Alamo Fire Update: When Wine Country Meets Forest Fire Country

Weather and climate play a strong role in which winegrapes can effectively grow where. Wine loves a particular combination of water and soil type and, unfortunately, in the United States, so do forest fires. As the Alamo Fire, which began early last week, continues to spread in the San Luis Obispo area, wineries nearby keep an extra watchful eye.

As of yesterday morning, July 10, the Alamo Fire has grown to nearly 29,000 acres and is approximately 15% contained. That said, the fire which was originally east of downtown Santa Maria is now closing in on a historic area vineyard, Bien Nacido, and a large-scale wine-production facility for Au Bon Climat.

The vineyard is wary, but safe, for the moment. “Vineyards should be fine,” said Bien Nacido vineyard manager Chris Hammell on Saturday morning. “Smoke and ash [is] traveling east of vines and structures,” and they currently are not expecting any smoke taint. Nor is the team at Au Bon Climat.

Still, the fire is creeping, causing evacuations and closing tasting rooms. Nicholas Miller, of Bien Nacido, watched as the fire burned up to North Canyon Vineyard near by. Luckily, the fire stopped at the vineyard. The crews for Jackson Family Wines’ Byron and Cambria wineries were evacuated, Cambria’s tasting room closed and residents across the area have been evacuated.

Watching and worrying about fires is just part of the job for vineyards and wineries in this area. Bien Nacido Vineyard was threatened by another fire just two weeks ago. A fire last year caused extreme smoke taint across some Jackson Family Wines vineyards in Monterey County. Even if the vineyards remain untouched, there is always the potential for damage from smoke as well as potential costs due to work outages, damaged barrels, product loss and the like.

The vineyards, the structures, the storage of oak barrels; there are a lot of flammable components to wine facilities. Stainless steel wine barrels and tanks should, at the very least, survive a fire — a silver lining among the potential mounting costs of fire damage.

Skolnik sends our thoughts and best wishes to the families, businesses and firefighters of the area as the Alamo Fire continues on.