The air quality in Napa and Sonoma counties is improving and grapes are ready to be harvested, but growers are still crossing their fingers while they wait to see if those grapes were ruined by the wildfire smoke.
No one can really remember a time when all of the major grape growing regions were blanketed in smoke for weeks.
Corey Beck is the CEO of the Francis Ford Coppola winery in Geyserville. He said the year has been challenging enough already with the pandemic and then wildfires.
Now, dense smoke has covered the central coast to the Sierra Foothills to Napa and Sonoma counties.
"We are actually assessing the different areas of California to see how much smoke damage, if at all, that there is," he said. "Just throughout California and the amount of fires that we’ve had, there’s a lot of regions that have smoke."
They have sent samples to a lab to test for the level of smoke taint, but with only one main lab doing this type of testing and smoke widespread across the state, those results may take a while.
But there is another surefire way to see if the grapes are usable or not: make them into wine and taste it.
"What we do is, we’re doing bucket fermentations and we’re taking and tasting those wines that we’re making from those vineyards," said Beck. "And that’s the best indication of if the vineyard has been affected by smoke taint."
Beck says with large fires becoming the norm, grape growers everywhere are learning a lot about smoke taint and how to detect and mitigate it. Sometimes the juice can be treated, but other times it is a complete loss.
Red grapes most impacted by smoke because the skins stay on during fermentation.
On the bright side, he says, while smoke has been persistent, the fires themselves have stayed away from the vineyards.