How Wildfires Are Affecting Sonoma County's Wineries

Nov 7, 2019
Originally published on November 7, 2019 6:09 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

You can see the burn scar from space. It's what remains of the wildfires that torched Northern California's Sonoma County for more than two weeks.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now the fire is contained, and local winemakers are assessing the damage. The good news - most grapes were picked before the fire broke out.

CHANG: But when wineries had to evacuate, they left behind tons of wine in the middle of a delicate fermenting process. Unattended for too long, the wine and all that wine revenue would be lost. Lucas Meeker of Meeker Wines says that after four days away, most of his product was OK.

LUCAS MEEKER: If we hadn't had the evacuation lifted until Friday as opposed to Wednesday, when it did get lifted, I think that my prognosis for a lot of the wines would have been markedly worse than it was.

KELLY: Now, not all wineries were so lucky. Soda Rock lost its main building - though owner Diane Wilson says she thinks the area will rebound.

DIANE WILSON: I feel like most people are pretty optimistic. And yes, there will be some losses. But you know, they're not in the catastrophic numbers, I don't think.

CHANG: It's still early yet. Some winemakers won't know how their 2019 vintage fared for months - or even years. Meanwhile, Wilson says these wildfires and power outages may portend a new normal for wine country.

WILSON: We're definitely, at all of the wineries, looking going - OK, we need to invest in generators and at least keep a bare minimum at the wineries running. If we really have a week here, a week there, it really can impact our business.

KELLY: And business lately has been terrible for Lucas Meeker. Smaller wineries like his in Geyserville depend on tourism. Now they are fighting the perception that Sonoma County is a burnt-out hell scape.

MEEKER: Our tasting room is a good chunk of our revenue, and our tasting room was closed for over a week. It's been back open since Saturday. But it's - people aren't coming to Geyserville right now (laughter). We'd love it if you did. But they're not.

CHANG: Both Meeker and Wilson are hoping that will change - that tourists will seize the chance to come back to wine country and raise a glass.

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