Southern California’s wildfires have proven to be among the most widespread in the state’s history. And yet restaurants are still grappling with the potential effects of the summer’s devastating Napa County wildfires, which saw 75,000-plus acres burned and about 50 wineries damaged. Now that the smoke in Napa has cleared, restaurants—including those outside the affected area—are assessing the impact on the wines they menu.
“There is a lot that we don’t know. We don’t know overall the impact that it is going to have on the volume of wine produced in Napa,” says Rob Warren, director of winemaking for Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants, which produces 600,000 gallons of wine each year with grapes sourced from California, Washington, Oregon and other regions. “Fortunately, going into this vintage, we weren’t at a major shortage. The market was in pretty good balance as far as supply and demand goes. But it really is a little bit early to tell.”
Winemakers note that while a few dozen wineries sustained some damage, about 90% of the 2017 harvest was already off the vines by the time the fires began. But there still could be consequences from the smoke and fire near the vineyard. Experts agree that it’s too early to tell the effects on certain finished wines, given that most of the 2017 vintages are still in the early stages of production. But because Napa and Sonoma wines are protected appellations, says Warren, wines labeled as such must come from those regions. If there isn’t enough from those two areas, prices will most certainly rise, he says.
As such, Warren sees the years ahead as a balancing act for putting wine on the menu. “It just means that we have to be aware that there is potential for wines to have smoke taint. It can be pretty mild, and you might taste it one day and not the next. It’s going to be important for us as buyers to play close attention, not in a paranoid way, but we don’t want to make any bad purchase decisions,” he says.