Smoke Taint Looms Large in CA

It has now been six weeks since the successful containment of the Glass Fire, a 67,484-acre (27,310-ha) blaze that burned in both Napa and Sonoma Counties. Despite the first winter rain having fallen in California a week or two after containment, an official end to the fire season has not yet been declared. Nonetheless, wine producers across northern California are moving on with the vintage, though that means many different things to many different people.

Official information about the full impact of the fires, beyond acres burned and structures destroyed, remains difficult to come by, especially when it comes to the wine industry. In fact, such information may only ever be truly available via retrospective analysis, when various governmental and trade organisations obliged to report on grape and wine production tell us how many acres were harvested and how much wine was actually produced.

Only when the US Department of Agriculture releases its annual Grape Crush Report on 10 February will we have a sense of the full extent to which this year’s fire season has impacted the vintage. Until then, and up to the point that a new vintage is in the barrel, many individuals and most organisations are trying their best to avoid the topic, and indeed even the words themselves: smoke taint. This is for fear of creating an impression with consumers that might in any way reduce their propensity to buy wines from the 2020 vintage.

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Image of discarded Zinfandel grapes courtesy of Steve Moazed and Bar None’s Canyon Vineyard.