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California Wildfire Update from GLWAS

California Wildfire Update

We have all watched with great concern as the recent tragedy unfolded in Northern California wine country over the past several weeks. Our hearts go out to all of those that suffered the loss of loved ones or of cherished property.

The people affected should be the focus in the short and mid-term: Buildings can be rebuilt, vines will regenerate and there will still be plenty of wine to drink. Beyond the tragedy of lost lives and property, those who lost their homes or lost their place of employment need help the most. It is estimated that 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed. Many other businesses are still closed and it is unclear when they might be up and fully operating. Imagine losing your home and all of your belongings, only to find you don’t have a job either.

To that end, Great Lakes Wine & Spirits has donated $50,000 to the Napa Valley Community Foundation Disaster Relief Fund and $50,000 to the Sonoma County Community Foundation Resilience Fund. All employees are also welcome to make a donation to one of these two organizations. It’s the very least and perhaps the best thing we can do from this far away.

To date, assessments on the scope of the damage are still not complete. We have a few winery partners that have just recently gained access to their property so they can make these determinations. What we do know regarding our business associates – and how it might affect their businesses and near-term availability – is this:

  • Our wineries and their estate vineyards are mostly unscathed. Many of the most famous properties in Napa Valley are in the Valley proper and on the benchlands, where the fires did not reach. Vineyards, which are almost uniformly irrigated, can actually act as a firebreak of sorts. In Sonoma, though there was horrific devastation in and around Santa Rosa, considerable damage of winery structures and vineyards in and around the village of Sonoma, the Valley of the Moon and to a lesser degree in Alexander Valley. Properties in Russian River, Sonoma Coast and western Sonoma Coast/Fort Ross-Seaview were mostly unaffected.
  • The overwhelming majority of the fruit in these regions had already been harvested and was being processed in the wineries. The majority of the fruit left on the vine in the affected areas is Cabernet Sauvignon, especially the super-premium stuff whose producers tend to let it ride at the end of the season to attain maximum ripeness in the fruit.
  • For the fruit/juice that is in the wineries, the chances of damage are very minor. In most cases minimal smoke entered winery facilities, and if smoke did enter the building the juice is in sealed stainless steel fermenters. If it’s in ‘open top’ fermenters, the CO2 emitted during fermentation would likely serve to shoo away any smoke. Where wineries lost power and the ability to cool the tanks, there is little concern: wine is more stable than one might realize. Stainless steel has only been in common use for 40-50 years, and there were plenty of great wines made, without refrigeration, prior to that.
  • Bottled goods would be unaffected unless they somehow came in close contact with heat from a fire. However, the price of land is so expensive in Napa Valley that most wineries store their case goods offsite and out of the valley.
  • As for the possibility of ‘smoke taint’ on the fruit still hanging, there is indeed a possibility of some impact on that fruit. However, as long as it’s minor, there are modern techniques that can remove modest off flavors, most notably Reverse Osmosis, or RO, which is used for home water purification systems. RO can remove the bad and keep the good. A possible larger concern is some of the fire retardants used on the fires. If it was used adjacent to vineyards the fruit will need to be abandoned or destroyed.
  • Initially, there were temporary shutdowns of some of distribution centers. However, things are almost back to business as usual. Contrary to some reports, we have not had any orders cut or cancelled and no retraction of any allocations. We’re getting loaded up and are prepared for the Holidays as usual.

We’d like to emphasize this last bullet point: Other than a week or so without access to our pickup points or warehouses, there have been no cancellations or cut orders. The wines from the 2017 harvest will not be entering the marketplace for a minimum of almost a year, and many times they are three, four and sometimes five years out. In the short term, there should be no issues from this devastating event. The fact that vintages 2015 and 2016 were very short harvests will be more impactful than these fires in terms of supply and availability.

Lastly, we’ve heard from a few people that had trips scheduled to California’s beautiful wine country that are going to cancel their plans. We have had several wineries reach out to us to specifically address this and said they are – for the most part – open for business.

Tourism is one of the pillars of their business model, and if they don’t have visitors it can dramatically affect their bottom lines. Beyond the wineries, all of the hotel and restaurant workers in the area – many of whom are tipped employees, and many of whom lost their homes – are yearning for some sense of normalcy.

Help out wine country and visit Napa Sonoma.

To make a donation to the Napa Valley Community Foundation Disaster Relief Fund please visit

To make a donation to the Sonoma County Community Foundation Resilience Fund please visit

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