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California wildfires could spell disaster for local winemakers

Aug 06, 2015

The raging wildfires in California pose the biggest threat to residents and communities, but they also could be putting the state's multibillion dollar wine business in jeopardy.

Vintners nears Napa Valley are concerned that the billows of smoke from the giant Rocky fire that's so far burned 69,600 acres in Lake, Yolo, and Colusa counties could pose a risk to their grapes since the skin of red grapes—that's now coming in contact with smoke—is used in the winemaking process. There's worry that the smoke exposure could result in abnormal flavors. To be sure, winemakers are sending their grapes to laboratories to evaluate if the smoke is ruining their product, the Guardian reports.

California has already seen 4,200 wildfires this year—1,500 more than normal.

If the smoke proves damaging to California's grapes, the consequences could be dramatic. The state sold $24 billion worth of wine last year, and it supplies 90% of American wine. A report on a 2003 wildfire's effects on grapes from the Department of Agriculture and Food in Australia doesn't bode well for California winemakers:

"Wines made from grapes exposed to smoke during sensitive growth stages can exhibit aromas and flavors resembling smoked meat, disinfectant, leather, salami and ashtrays,” the report said. Even worse: When “unfavorable smoke characteristics are detected by consumers at high concentrations," the wines could be “unpalatable,” according to the report.

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