Home Wildfires Fire Watch: Caldor Fire Blazes Through El Dorado Wine Country

Fire Watch: Caldor Fire Blazes Through El Dorado Wine Country

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County’s wineries remain alert, but untouched; surrounding AVAs contend with smoke.

—Barbara Barrielle

The Caldor Fire has torched 114,166 acres of El Dorado County. As of this writing the fire is only 9 percent contained, has destroyed 615 structures and damaged 29. No wineries have reported any damages or immediate threat of damage by fire. 

Caldor Fire Map as of 8.24.21 : USDA Fire Service
Caldor Fire Map as of 8.24.21 : USDA Fire Service

The foreboding sense of deja vu is understandably hanging over the California wine industry as the 2021 harvest season commences. El Dorado County wineries, thankfully, remain untouched, although several areas have been evacuated or are on evacuation warning in order to keep roads clear for first responders. 

Sam Patterson, owner of Shadow Ranch Winery, in the County’s Fair Play AVA and interim president of the El Dorado Winery Association, points out that most of the County’s wineries are located at high enough elevations to remain out of the fire’s current path. Additionally, wineries west of Fairplay Road—like Skinner Vineyards, Gwinllan Estate Winery, TooGood Estate Winery, and Shadow Ranch Winery—are expected to remain out of danger. As long as the fire continues its current trajectory.

Caldor Fire Initial Attack on 8.14.21/ USDA Fire Service
Caldor Fire Initial Attack on 8.14.21/ USDA Fire Service

“No wineries or vineyards have sustained damage but several are evacuated,” says Kara Sather, executive director of the Association. “As an association, we are bonding and allocating resources, taking care of staff and really just concentrating on safety.”

Regarding harvest, Patterson comments, “Aside from Sauvignon Blanc and a few white [varieties], most grapes are still on the vine. I’d be surprised if much fruit has been harvested at all. Our harvest really doesn’t start until late September.” 

Patterson isn’t too worried about tainted fruit: smoke, while apparent, is being carried north and to the east, though there is some sitting in valleys at times throughout the day. “Smoke, in general, depends on its freshness and density,” says Patterson. “At this point we see no indication vineyards will suffer smoke taint.”

In Amador County, Bill Easton of Terre Rouge and Easton Wines, reports, “So far Amador has been lucky with the 2021 fire season as far as viticulture. The fires were about as close as 15 miles to the Fiddletown AVA and about 12 miles from the Shenandoah AVA.  There has been no ‘fresh’ smoke but only high overcast smoke.The Caldor Fire is to the northwest of our appellation.”

Napa and Sonoma Counties remain out of fire danger, but after the most recent four vintages having suffered fires, smoke, and evacuations, growers are concerned as harvest approaches. Especially in light of the drastic drought conditions combined with the prevailing dry winds. Recently skies have been hazy with smoke from a combination of four major surrounding wildfires: Caldor, Dixie, McFarland and Monument.

John Bucher, owner of Bucher Wines, has extensive vineyards and a dairy on Westside Road in Healdsburg. His grapes are sourced by some of the top Pinot Noir producers in the Russian River Valley AVA. “We are not seeing any effects in the vineyard at this time. There have been a few hazy days, but nothing too bad,” says Bucher. “We are definitely concerned about smoke in the vineyard. We collected some baseline samples last week on August 15th, and everything came back negative for smoke taint.” Bucher’s ranch was affected by the 2020 Walbridge fire, but says most of the crop was already picked before the smoke settled in.

After 2017, fire departments, cities, hospitals and businesses changed their approach to fire management, and wineries are no different. Bucher explains,  “We have taken steps each year to protect our farm, vineyard, and structures since the Tubbs Fire in 2017. This includes additional fire hydrants and extinguishers, emergency evacuation plans, and certifications in wildland fire safety.”

All of the vineyards from which Trombetta Family Wines buys grapes for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay production were affected by smoke in 2020, forcing them to forego the entire vintage. “There are two areas of major concern for Trombetta Family: lack of water, due to the drought, and the increasing incidents of large forest fires throughout the state. We cannot change Mother Nature’s rainfall, but the State of California and the Federal Government need to step up on cleaning up our forests,” says Rickey Trombetta. 

“[2020] was such a disaster. Not only for us because we did not make any wine, but also for the vineyard owners who saw an entire year’s work literally go up in smoke,” says Trombetta. “Every year farming becomes more and more difficult. Let’s pray for a robust, rainy season.”

El Dorado Winery Association is posting regular updates on their social media pages / El Dorado Winery Association
El Dorado Winery Association is posting regular updates on their social media pages / El Dorado Winery Association / eldoradowines.org

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Barbara Barrielle
Barbara Barrielle
Barbara Barrielle was a longtime publicist in sports and wine before going to the other side as a wine, travel and entertainment writer. She also produces films and has a documentary “Crushed: Climate Change and the Wine Country Fires” releasing in 2021. Current publications Barbara writes for are AARP Magazine, Northwest Travel & Life, East Hampton Star, Napa Valley Register, Oregon Wine Press as well as Wine Industry Advisor. She lives in Healdsburg, travels extensively and studies wine and languages.
 
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2 COMMENTS

  1. “Smoke, in general, depends on its freshness and density,”

    Not sure I understand what the means.

    Smoke-filled days with respect to harvest date?

  2. Translate it as: “With smoke, in general, to determine how much it’ll taint the vineyard, it depends on its freshness and density.”

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