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Smoke Damages Vineyards in California

December 13th, 2016 by Dean Ricker

Filed under: Skolnik Newsletter, Wine

Wines and Vines reports that this summer, as the Soberanes Fire raged in Monterey County, winemakers and growers in the Carmel Valley watched as heavy smoke descended on their vineyards. Many of those affected hoped that their still-developing grapes would dodge any smoke contamination, but now that most wineries in the region have pressed off their 2016 reds, it appears that several may have had to deal with extensive smoke problems. The fire was ignited July 22 from an illegal campfire and wasn’t declared fully contained until Oct. 28. The blaze burnt 132,127 acres, and the majority of that was in a rugged stretch of the Los Padres National Forest. The location of the fire was almost due west from the Carmel Valley, which is home to several wineries and vineyards. While the region’s topography and climate kept the smoke well north of the vineyards in southern Monterey County, including the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, the smoke poured into the Carmel Valley. Matt Piagari, assistant winemaker for Joullian Vineyards & Winery in Carmel Valley, said the smoke appeared just as the winery’s estate vineyards reached vĂ©raison. “It was much like a thick fog you’d see in San Francisco,” Piagari recalled. Piagari said the winery sprayed the vines and clusters with a cream of tartar solution that did seem to be effective in getting the heaviest smoke deposits off the grapes. The excess moisture on the grapes can lead to other problems, but those are easy to deal with compared to smoke. “If you could find a way to rinse the leaves and grapes off earlier, before harvest, that might be something,” he said. The USDA’s crop insurance program does provide coverage for losses in production and quality from smoke and fire damage. Quality losses need to be confirmed with prices reductions or lab tests if unsellable.

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