Many people are asking about the fires and the impact on wineries. It is devastating, and it’s important to remember the fires are a larger scope of issues outside the Oregon wine industry and are similarly affecting a wide range of farm crops up and down the US west coast, Washington to California. It is too early to tell what the fire damage will be to vineyards and wineries as active fires move through our state, including our largest wine producing region, the Willamette Valley, but as harvest nears, winemakers are placing the safety of their workers first.
Some other statewide points to communicate when asked:
Oregon winemakers have dealt successfully with mitigating wildfire smoke damage numerous times, although this is one of the first times the state’s winemakers have dealt with active fires in winemaking regions besides the Columbia Gorge fires of 2017. This year, adding to the Gorge’s Mosier fire, we also have fire pressure in numerous spots within Southern Oregon and the Willamette Valley.
True to Oregon’s collaborative nature, winemakers talk to each other, rely on each other for information, tools and support, and follow techniques from wine regions around the globe such as those in Australia who have battled fires near vineyards and smoke affected grapes in wines since the 1980s, along with New Zealand, California and Washington.
Some examples of kindness put forth by businesses related to wine: Ruddick/Wood in Newberg is providing free meals to anyone directly affected by the fires, evacuations and wind/storm damage, with boxes to go for first responders. Caravan Coffee in Newberg is giving free coffee to evacuees, and Even Pull Farm in Yamhill County will donate a CSA box to people hosting evacuees. King Kong Phou of King’s Kitchen in Fork Forty Food Hall in Salem, solicited donations which he then used to purchase snacks, toiletries, and coloring books and activities for kids. He bagged them up and dropped them off at the Fairgrounds where Salem evacuees are staying.
This season’s series of wildfires is bigger than the Oregon wine industry as the issues are similarly affecting a wide range of farm crops up and down the west coast; the fire impact cuts across all agricultural sectors and business and people. While it’s too early to tell the damage to crops or grapes specifically, people are being evacuated and safety is the priority to the wine industry.
Research scientists from WA, OR and CA have been collaborating over the past several months to outline a comprehensive, three-state smoke impact research project which will be submitted soon to USDA for Specialty Crop Research Initiative funding. The learning will help grape growers and winemakers better anticipate and manage conditions like those they’re now experiencing. Access a presentation from the Oregon Wine Symposium 2019 here.
While we may not know the effect of smoke on this harvest for years, winemakers can implement procedures for mitigating the effects of smoke affected grapes at the grape and juice handling stage, and by minimizing fermentation time on grape skins. They can also use smoke affected grapes for unique Rosé cuvees as well as “small-batch smoky wines” and brandies.
The generosity of Oregon winemakers helping other winemakers during 2017 and 2018 fires was huge. Not only here, helping each other with webinars and lending each other equipment and labor, but Oregonians sent money and offered jobs to displaced Californian laborers when the Napa and Sonoma fires.
These examples include: Jim Bernau of Willamette Valley Vineyards offering jobs, housing and food for cellar workers who had lost theirs in the fires). Specifically, Oregon winemakers answered the call to assist colleagues when Pierre Zreik, Sue Horstmann and Denise Seroyer recruited talents from 70 Oregon wineries and a dozen restaurants to offer a fall afternoon of food and fine wine at The Allison Inn & Spa. 400 wine lovers turned out and the proceeds topped $35,000. A few weeks later, wineries from the Umpqua and Willamette valleys joined their counterparts from Washington and California in support of a San Francisco Chefs Gala that brought in $750,000 for relief efforts. One of the biggest things the fires taught us is how generously big-hearted the spirit of the Oregon wine community is.