Wine prices could go up after California wildfires leave tons of grapes unusable

Vineyards were unable to deliver numbers they usually do, largely the result of vines being destroyed from wildfires and smoke seeping into existing grapes

‘The smoke was the main concern, because wine is not supposed to have a smoky flavor to it,’ said Jose Enriquez of Rutherford Hill Winery.
‘The smoke was the main concern, because wine is not supposed to have a smoky flavor to it,’ said Jose Enriquez of Rutherford Hill Winery. Photograph: Tetra Images/Getty Images/Tetra images RF

California vineyards have been forced to throw away tons of grapes after they became unusable following wildfires that swept through the state last summer.

“The smoke was the main concern, because wine is not supposed to have a smoky flavor to it” says José Enríquez, of Rutherford Hill Winery, who has worked at wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties for more than 20 years. He admitted that prices will likely go up this year as a result.

That is not good news for California’s wine industry, which produces around 90% of all wine sold in the US, and which had sales that topped $24bn in 2014.

Many Napa and Sonoma wineries look north to Lake County for cheaper grapes, notably cabernet, to fill their vats for blending. But this year, according to the Wine Institute, those vineyards were unable to deliver the numbers they usually do, largely as a result of vines being destroyed from the wildfires and smoke seeping into the existing grapes.

Andy Beckstoffer, of Beckstoffer Vineyards in Rutherford, California, said there were grapes on the vines when the fires came and vineyards were hit hard as a result.

“We saw a lot of grapes too smoky to be usable for wine-making, and this is going to lead to a different kind of year,” he said. “What people should understand is that because wineries demand the highest-quality grape for their wines, any outliers or problems with the grapes makes them unusable. And [the cost of] this is likely to be passed on to the consumer.”

Beckstoffer agrees that 2016 is likely to see a slight increase in the price of wine for the affected wineries. “It won’t be a lot, but it will be a few extra dollars for each bottle and most likely a reduction in overall quantities available, which will be interesting to watch as those bottles hit the racks later this year.”

Jonathan Walters of Brassfield Estate Winery, who is also chairman of the Lake County Winegrape Commission, said that “overall, the fires have led to difficulties in supply, but we are confident that the overall industry will remain strong going forward”.

With extensive reports on the 2015 wildfires expected to be released by the Napa and Sonoma wine industry later this year, both Enriquez and Beckstoffer are urging people not to panic but to expect differences from previous years’ vintages.

“Our wine tasters across the region have done a lot more work this year than in many previous years, attempting to find the best grapes in one of the poorest harvests that I have ever seen,” Enriquez admitted. “For now, we are all still hopeful it won’t cause much of an impact in the overall wine industry, but the numbers, the failure of many grapes and the smoke getting into the grapes is cause for concern. But you know, this is a major wine-producing area of the world and we all know we will overcome.”