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Hope in Wine Country as vineyards assess the long-term economic impact of the wildfires

Sun, 15 Oct 2017 01:42:41 UT

Many of the most powerful images coming out of the Wine Country fires last week depicted the wine industry as charred, its future threatened. A generations-old winery engulfed in flames and reduced to rubble. Symmetrical rows of grapevines, backlit by a bright line of approaching fire. Uncertainty and anxiety grip the wine community. And as the magnitude of the damage becomes clearer and missing loved ones are located, attention will turn to the scale of the devastation to the pastoral region’s multibillion-dollar wine industry. No one would compare the loss of wine with the loss of life. But wine is these communities’ lifeblood — economic, cultural and otherwise.



List of wineries damaged in the Wine Country fires [Updates]

Sat, 14 Oct 2017 19:56:03 UT

While many winery owners have not yet determined the damage their wineries may have sustained from the Wine Country fires in Napa and Sonoma counties, many are reporting damage, ranging from complete destruction to smaller impact. F




White Rock Vineyards assesses fire damage, looks to rebuild

Sat, 14 Oct 2017 02:57:15 UT

For the Vandendriessche family, there was no warning. The family was at home on Sunday night, on their property off Soda Canyon Road where their estate winery, White Rock Vineyards, stands. When the fires broke out just above them, on Atlas Peak, they didn’t hear about it on the news. They saw it. Michael Vandendriessche, who manages the family’s vineyards, was the first to notice the flames moving fast down the ridgeline, directly toward their property. He awoke his wife and children then ran next door to wake up his parents, Henri and Claire. Within three minutes, they were all out.



Gallo to donate more than $1 million to wildfire recovery

Fri, 13 Oct 2017 19:56:02 UT

E. & J. Gallo Winery, one of the largest wine companies in the world, announced today it would contribute $1 million to fire recovery efforts, while also matching employee donations two-for-one.




Latest figures: Wine Country fires' containment levels

Fri, 13 Oct 2017 17:49:17 UT

These are the latest numbers provided by Cal Fire on the blazes burning across Northern California.




Mayacamas winery still standing; tasting room burned

Fri, 13 Oct 2017 00:09:41 UT

The Nuns Fire reached Mayacamas Vineyards, one of Napa’s most iconic wine estates, near the top of Mount Veeder, on Wednesday. But while one of the property’s historic buildings burned to the ground, the winery itself — a stone building constructed in 1889 — remains intact. The burned structure, Mayacamas estate manager Jimmy Hayes confirmed, was a building they call “the residence.” It operates as a hospitality center for the winery (though Mayacamas is generally not open to the public for tastings). “If you imagine originally there was this freestanding stone distillery building, and on two occasions it was expanded upon to become a larger residence,” Hayes said.



How are the Sonoma and Napa fires affecting the wine harvest? An explainer

Thu, 12 Oct 2017 02:22:30 UT

How big is the wine industry in Napa and Sonoma counties? According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, 45,341 acres of vineyards are planted in Napa, 59,509 acres in Sonoma. Together, the counties employ more than 100,000 workers. Combining recent estimates from the Sonoma County Winegrowers and the Napa Valley Vintners, the wine industry in both counties is worth more than $27 billion to local economies. How many wineries and vineyards have burned? Unknown.



How the fire struck at Gundlach Bundschu, one of California’s oldest wineries

Thu, 12 Oct 2017 02:19:46 UT

The band Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions was playing to a packed house at Gundlach Bundschu Winery on Sunday night when Jeff Bundschu noticed the fires in the mountains, far off. “We saw the orange glow,” said Bundschu, 49, whose family has owned the Sonoma Valley winery at the base of Arrowhead Mountain since 1858, making it one of the state’s oldest wineries. He alerted one of his employees, who drove over the mountain range to inspect the situation. When the employee first called Bundschu, he reported that the fire seemed to be staying closer to Napa County. But 10 minutes later, he called his boss in a state of panic. “It was moving fast,” Bundschu said.



As Wine Country fires rage on, the list of wineries damaged or destroyed is likely to grow

Thu, 12 Oct 2017 01:13:06 UT

COMPLETE LIST: More than a dozen wineries including White Rock Vineyards, Stags' Leap, and Frey Vineyards Winery have so far been confirmed as damaged or significantly damaged in the Wine Country fires – and with many vineyard owners not yet able to return to evacuated areas to assess damage, the number may rise in the coming days. Before the fires, the annual harvest was about 90 percent complete in the region, but smoke and power outages could also affect the wine industry.

This list will be updated as information comes in from vintners and Chronicle wine writer Esther Mobley, on assignment at the Wine Country fires.




Ray Signorello vows to rebuild after devastating winery fire

Thu, 12 Oct 2017 00:14:56 UT

Ray Signorello was on a trip to Canada with his two daughters, ages 2 and 6, when he heard that his namesake winery, built in 1986 on Silverado Trail, was on fire. His wife, Tanya, was at the property — where the family also lives — when flames became visible in the Vaca Mountains. She evacuated around 11 p.m. By morning, Signorello Estate would become a memorable image of devastation in the Wine Country fires that, several days later, are still causing destruction throughout Napa and Sonoma counties. A number of staff members had raced to the winery late Sunday night, fire extinguishers in hand. “They fought the fire themselves for as long as they could,” Ray Signorello said.



Chenin Blanc’s champions revive a workhorse white

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 18:13:40 UT

[...] when Chardonnay was crowned king in the 1980s, surrounded by a royal court of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, Chenin got the hook. “I was always looking for an alternative white, a good variety that could maintain acidity,” said Leo Hansen, a Danish sommelier who started his Leo Steen brand in Healdsburg back in 2004. People were ripping out and planting other things, so I started trying to help preserve these small old spots of Chenin. Born into an oil-drilling family in northeast Texas, he landed his first winery gig in the Loire Valley while finishing his plant pathology/microbiology degree at Texas A&M. “I was not a mindful wine consumer when I was in France — that was the infancy of my wine journey — but I do remember these really steely, crisp white wines that they made,” said Roark. “I grew up in the oil fields, and there’s a vineyard in the middle of an oil field that’s Chenin Blanc?” he laughed. For a small vineyard, the list of wineries using Jurassic Park fruit is more than a dozen long, including Municipal Winemakers, Lieu Dit, Habit, Kunin, Santa Barbara Winery, Birichino and Field Recordings. “The neatest thing about it was that nobody was buying any Chenin Blanc, and then somehow this market sort of began,” said Ben Merz of Coastal Vineyard Care Associates, which started farming the vineyard in 2009. All of these boutique wineries started looking for Chenin Blanc so, initially, just to find a home for the grapes, we sold a ton here and there to as many people as we could find. “What I love about Chenin Blanc is that it’s so old that it’s new again,” said Dry Creek winemaker Tim Bell, who’s seen a notable uptick in the past three years and plans to make even more than the current 18,500 annual cases in the future. Chenin is all the buzz there right now, as the region’s increasing shift from quantity to quality grape-growing is showing that it can do for whites what Lodi has done for reds. “I was very pleasantly surprised,” said Haarmeyer, who started working with the farmers of his Clarksburg Chenin vineyard after 2009 to improve the potential by limiting yields and picking while sugars were low and acids high. Tom Merwin’s family has tilled the Clarksburg soil for 100 years, and the eighth-generation farmer recalls when his dad turned to wine grapes more than 20 years ago when the commodity crop prices were floundering. A Napa escapee, he headed to the Sierra Foothills in 2004 to make something other than big Cabernet and Chardonnay, and consults for a handful of wineries, including Elevation 10, where he makes Chenin Blanc from Clarksburg.



Viticulturists and scientists battle latest vineyard virus: red blotch

Thu, 10 Aug 2017 21:19:18 UT

With 283 acres of wine grapes on a more than 2,000-acre ranch — complete with organic walnuts, olives for oil and grazing cattle — it’s the largest vineyard on the west side of Paso Robles, where the mountainous terrain, limestone-like soils, and ocean influence comprise a vintner’s paradise. [...] the property was in the midst of a major transition from simply selling grapes to becoming its own estate winery, which made the stakes even higher for the new vineyard manager. What Pope didn’t realize, however, was that Halter Ranch was soon to be on the front lines in the fight against red blotch, the latest grapevine disease threatening vineyards across the continent. Pope is one of the few farmers not afraid to speak openly about his battle with red blotch, which, if left unchecked, could greatly diminish both the quality and quantity of California wines, from Napa to Santa Barbara counties. For one, leafroll is an RNA virus spread by vine mealybug, while red blotch infects the DNA and affects different varieties differently — Sauvignon Blanc leaves, for instance, don’t turn red early, and yields aren’t too hampered in Cabernet Sauvignon. The leading, and really only, suspicion is that infected vines entered the extensive commercial nursery system that growers rely on for new plantings. Since the virus was unknown, it wasn’t tested for, so spread widely as thousands of acres of vines were planted across the country over the past two decades. While Fuchs and others are examining genetic means of protecting plants against leafroll, red blotch, and other diseases — vaccines for vines, essentially — the only way to deal with red blotch right now is to either completely rip out your vineyard or methodically “rogue” it, taking out infected blocks or vines one by one. [...] it’s better than the alternative: a recent study published in the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture said that, when all economic factors are considered, red blotch could reach a $28,000-per-acre annual loss for high-end Napa vineyards. “That changed the dynamics,” explained Steve McIntyre, who farms 12,000 acres of grapevines in Monterey County and sat on the committee to stop the spread of the sharpshooter. Though he suspects there may be other vectors — there’s at least one other species that seems to be spreading the disease in cooler and hillside areas, whereas the treehopper prefers warmth and pools of water — finding the treehopper was a critical step. “If all the parties sit around the same table with the goal of producing and adopting clean material, I would venture to say that, in less than 10 years, the virus won’t vanish, but it will reach a very low level that will be very easy for the industry to manage,” pledged Fuchs.



Vintners rally to preserve Russian River Valley’s historic Zinfandel vineyards

Thu, 10 Aug 2017 18:48:11 UT

Vintners rally to preserve Russian River Valley’s historic Zinfandel vineyards Papera’s devoted longtime caretaker, Tom Feeney, had died; in 2006, Feeney’s son sold the vineyard to a private real estate investment fund, ready to realize the plot’s full financial potential. “They were all set to tear out the Zin and plant Pinot Noir at Papera,” Officer says. Because this is Russian River Valley, and Pinot Noir is what should be planted here, according to the pencil pushers. Cooler and breezier than vineyards abutting the river along Westside and Eastside roads, Piner-Olivet was historically a stronghold for Zinfandel. Mike Officer believes these Italians’ now-ancient vineyards are treasures, and has tried over and over again to save these historic plots of land from dual threats: Santa Rosa residential development, and the Russian River cash crop — Pinot Noir. The wines it yields — from wineries including Carlisle, Williams Selyem, Bedrock and Novy — are extraordinary, and baldly contradict any popular notions of Zinfandel as jammy and hot. A Palo Alto-based angel investor — and wine lover — named Stuart Coulson had contacted him, expressing interest in getting into the wine industry. “To me, it’s like having a beautiful work of art, or a historic building, and people just want to get rid of it,” says Officer, who is a co-founder of the Historic Vineyard Society. After a series of defeats for the historic plantings, some new vintners have recently purchased properties in the area and made clear their commitment to upholding Piner-Olivet’s viticultural legacy. In the cases of some Piner-Olivet properties — Papera, Saitone — Officer directly connected the right kinds of buyers with the sellers. Before Seghesio bought Montafi, Officer had leased it “for an obscene amount of money,” he says, to prevent the previous owners from planting Pinot there. When he bought his own Carlisle Vineyard, in 1998, Officer beat out developers with much deeper pockets because he was able to convince then-owner Barbara Pelletti, whose father, Alcide, had planted the vineyard in 1927, that he would preserve her father’s vision. [...] I think producers, and now consumers, are starting to get a sense for what these vines really mean. “The reasons why traditions stay is because of success in the past,” says Jesse Katz, as of last November the owner of the Ponzo vineyard, planted in 1912. In other words, the longevity of these Zinfandel plantings testifies to their enduring appeal, impervious to any decade’s trends and fads. Head-trained Zin - bush vines, the Europeans would say - is floppy, its sun exposure scattered and irregular, far less systematic in producing sugary grapes. Williams Selyem is among California’s most famous Pinot Noir producers; less well known is the winery’s longstanding interest in Russian River Zinfandel. Plantings of that era were never monovarietal — it wasn’t customary to plant vineyard blocks to a single grape variety until after Repeal. [...] interspersed among the Zinfandel in these old fields is a cornucopia of “mixed black” varieties: a Mourvedre vine here, a Tempranillo vine there. Officer lights up with reverence when he talks about his vineyard. Like an archaeologist piecing together the lives of an extinct population through fragments of their pottery, he finds himself excavating the farming practices, and thought processes, of the San Pellegrinetto settlers through the roots they left behind. Wines, especially Zinfandels, from the Piner-Olivet neighborhood of Santa Rosa show distinctive characteristics that you won’t find elsewhere in the Russian River Valley appellation. Carlisle Zinfandel Carlisle Vine[...]



Perfecting Pinot at Clos de la Tech

Thu, 10 Aug 2017 03:03:03 UT

Right now, on very small blocks of his vineyards, which ride the ridge between Half Moon Bay and Woodside, underground probes are monitoring water absorption rates and radioing that information to a central computer, which then relays it to irrigation valves powered by thumbnail-size solar panels. “In a typical vineyard, you can find plants that are dying for water and undercropping, and you can find plants that are waterlogged and producing poor-quality fruit,” said Rodgers. The resulting technology — which Rodgers is starting to sell through his startup company WaterBit Inc. — is likely to conserve water and ensure more evenly dispersed and ripened grapes. The Waterbit technology will be a boon for large commercial grape growers and other fruit and vegetable farmers, who also use their irrigation systems to distribute fertilizers, called “fertigation.” “My propensity is to do everything 100 percent without any compromise,” explained Rodgers, who began reading academic journals on wine, started tinkering with ways to control and monitor fermentation temperatures, and even built his own press. In 2000, they took the brand commercial and bought two more pieces of vineyard property closer to the ridgetop, including the steeply sloped, ocean-facing property above La Honda where they built their winery into underground caves. Clos de la Tech was developing technology along a similar path, so he reached out, toured the vineyard (“one of the most meticulous”) and winery (“almost like Disneyland”), and gave his spiel about how valuable it would be to collect these aromas and then sell them to large commercial producers whose wines needed better bouquets. “The next thing I know, they’re flying me out there to talk about the aroma collection and utilization project,” said Goldfarb, who returned to work the 2012 harvest at Clos de la Tech and was then taught how to manage the vineyards by the renowned viticulturist Rex Geitner, who died in 2013. While the aromatic capture project is currently caught in a regulatory limbo — despite wide interest, it’s unclear whether the feds would treat it as distilling, and arcane state laws need some tweaking — Goldfarb, Massey and Rodgers continue to test the scalability of their integrated fermentation control system with UC Davis. Being surrounded by a commitment to making the best wine possible, and the intelligence creativity, and mind power that’s fueling the operation is really exciting and motivating. “If you bring that kind of scientific inquisitiveness to winemaking, where you throw in a living thing, from the ground to the grapes to the microorganisms, the complexity goes up by a factor of thousands,” said Rodgers, who can explain tannin molecule differences, anthocyanin ratios and quercitin creation at the deepest of levels.



The year in California wine

Thu, 10 Aug 2017 02:44:54 UT

Measured from the top of one of the 132-foot propellers, its massive new windmill stands 396 feet tall and is visible for miles, including from Highway 101 4 miles south of Greenfield. All the grape must is composted, drip irrigation covers the expanse, and more than 250 owl boxes provide homes to raptors ready to play exterminator, no chemicals needed. More than 2,000 California wine grape growers and winemakers already participate in the CSWA program, representing nearly 70 percent of the state's wine acreage and 80 percent of case production. The nonprofit CSWA has been around since 2002, established by fellow nonprofit Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers, and its certified sustainable grape-growing program, with verification from a third-party auditor, started in 2010. A study conducted by market research firm Wine Opinions published earlier this year confirms what wineries active in sustainability programs have been reporting for years: demand for sustainably produced wine has increased over the past 10 years and is likely to continue to grow over the next decade. The findings — based on responses from 457 members of its national trade panel (distributors, retailers, restaurateurs and members of the media) in 36 states — included: Integrated pest management, water conservation and natural resource management all ranked as priorities; "The trade's interest in sustainably grown and produced wines is a positive for the California wine industry, which has adopted sustainable practices on a large scale," she says. California wines selling for $10 and above are showing growth, accounting for 19 percent of the volume and 40 percent of the value in domestic food stores. “Consumers worldwide recognize the high quality of California wines from diverse regions across the state,” says Wine Institute President and CEO Robert P. Koch. While rosés still make up a relatively tiny 1 percent of varietal consumption (according to U.S. food store volume measured by Nielsen), last year it gained 35 percent on volume and more than 60 percent on dollar value. New results from a Wine Institute-commissioned survey by Destination Analysts sheds some light on who comes to California for the juice. Visitors also highly value winery and restaurant experiences, with three-quarters noting tastings, tours and food pairings at wineries to be “important” or very important. “Not to pick on Brussels sprouts,” says Wine Institute spokesperson Gladys Horiuchi, “but how many people come to the state for a Brussels sprouts tasting?”