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California Wildfires

FILE - In this Oct. 9, 2017 file photo, Jim Stites watches part of his neighborhood burn in Fountain Grove, Calif. California's insurance commissioner said Tuesday that losses from a series of destructive wildfires now exceed $3.3 billion.

California has had more than 20 major wildfires since Oct. 8. They burned 245,000 acres, damaged 8,900 structures (nearly all were destroyed) and resulted in 42 deaths.

Most of the fire damage occurred in Napa, Sonoma and Monterey Counties, prime California wine country. The following is an overview of what wine lovers should know.

Personal devastation

Winery employees from vineyard workers to managers have lost homes, vehicles and belongings. The economic impacts are devastating, and the emotional impacts may be even worse.

Imagine losing everything connecting you to your parents, siblings and children. Childhood and family photographs…gone. Wedding photographs... gone. Lifelines of memorabilia…gone.


In addition to the personal devastation, wine lovers need to know about direct impacts of the fires on wineries of this world-class region. Fortunately the news is better than expected.

California’s Wine Institute reported earlier this week that 11 of the 1,200 wineries in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino Counties have been destroyed or heavily damaged.

This number is surprisingly small, in part because vineyards can act as fire breaks. Grapevines are pruned and irrigated, which decreases their flammability. And spacing between rows in vineyards reduces the chances of fires spreading.


Before the fires, the 2017 vintage had been expected to produce fine wines, and this optimistic forecast is unchanged. About 90 percent of the grapes already had been harvested before the fires in both Napa and Sonoma Counties and 85 percent in Mendocino County. Smoke from the fires did not affect harvested grapes.

Grapes still on vines during the fires have been affected by smoke and in some cases destroyed by heat.

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A major concern is wine tourism, which greatly impacts the area’s economy. It is unknown how quickly tourism will rebound now that the fires are nearly 100% controlled, but there is grave concern that it may be slow to return to pre-fire levels.

Yet nearly all wineries are undamaged and have reopened their tasting rooms for tourism. And of course all wines being served are from pre-fire vintages.

Also, undamaged restaurants and lodgings are open, and they and their employees urgently need tourism to bounce back.


This is the time for wine lovers to remember how Napa, Sonoma, and Monterey wines have enriched our lives and to say thank you by giving back to the residents of these counties. Here are suggestions for aiding with the personal and economic devastations resulting from the fires:

John Vankat’s Pine Wine appears every month and his Wine Pick of the Week is published every Wednesday. John can be reached at


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