October 10, 2017 2:14 pm
Updated: October 12, 2017 9:12 am

Wine country fires could mean fewer California wines for years

WATCH: Massive plumes of smoke from wildfires seen rising above California.

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Update: Firefighters facing a resurgence of high winds on Wednesday struggled to halt wildfires that have killed at least 23 people, destroyed 3,500 structures and left hundreds missing in chaotic evacuations across northern California’s wine country. Nearly two dozen blazes spanning eight counties have charred around 170,000 acres (68,797 hectares).

The wildfires burning up Northern California are likely to leave a bitter taste in the mouths of wine lovers across the world.

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Napa and Sonoma, known around the world as the Mecca of California’s Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, are two of eight counties where California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency, according to the latest statewide fire report.

READ MORE: California wildfires: At least 23 killed, hundreds still missing from deadly fires

The heart of the state’s wine industry is where the Tubbs Fire, the largest of the more-than-15 blazes that have been burning in the region since Sunday night, has hit. The fire covered 109 square-km on Tuesday morning.

Although it’s early to estimate the actual impact of the fires, extensive damage to the area’s grapes could result in a global shortage of California wines, according to Simon Somogyi, associate professor at Dalhousie University’s faculty of agriculture.

“Any ripple effects won’t be felt for a while,” said Somogyi, who noted that it would likely take about one to two years for the grapes affected in the current blaze to hit the market.

READ MORE: Wildfires tear through wine country in Northern California, at least 10 killed

California accounts for 85 per cent of the U.S. wine production average, with Napa and Sonoma producing much of the country’s best wines.

So far, the flames have destroyed Signorello Estate, located on the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley and Paradise Ridge wineries, in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County.

Among Napa’s best-known names, Stags’ Leap Winery said it had suffered partial damage, while Chimney Rock and Darioush were said to be at risk.

Also reportedly destroyed was the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country hotel in Santa Rosa.

WATCH: Homes, Hilton hotel engulfed in flames during northern California wildfires

The fires are hitting while harvesting is in full swing in Napa, according to industry magazine Wine Spectator. Vineyards in Sonoma were just wrapping up.

It would take three to four years to replace production from vines that have to be replaced rather than repaired, meaning any California shortages could last that long, Somogyi told Global News.

READ MORE: California wildfire along coastline big and getting bigger

But the damage could extend beyond what’s being burned, he added. The smoke from the fires could also affect the grapes, resulting in a “smoky flavour” in wine that is “definitely not desirable.”

Although it’s possible to correct for that, the production techniques involved in the process are very complex, said Somogyi.

Will Americans turn to Canadian wines?

A shortage of California wines could be a chance for Canadian growers to increase awareness of Canadian wines among the U.S. public, said Somogyi. B.C.’s Okanagan Valley and Ontario’s Niagara region are where Canada’s production of similar wine varieties are located.

But Canadian growers would face tough competition to help fill that gap. France, Australia and South American countries like Chile and Argentina tend to supply the bulk of wines that come closest to California’s production, in terms of quality and price point, Somogyi noted.

In contrast, Canada’s wines are generally more expensive, in part due to chillier climates.

Americans also tend to be quite patriotic when it comes to wine, meaning that they wouldn’t necessarily turn to imports if they can’t buy, cautioned Somogyi.

Winds and dry weather helped fan 17 large wildfires across California since Sunday night. The blazes have so far left 11 people dead and burned around 1,500 buildings over a 465 square-km area.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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