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WINERY NEWS: FIRE!!!

Murphys Law: a supposed law of nature, expressed in various humorous popular sayings, to the effect that anything that can go wrong will go wrong.



Just when you think you are making progress and trying something new and exciting, you get a nice curve ball thrown at you. However, that seems to be the theme for the year 2020.

Earlier this year we were excited to announce that we had decided to venture north into the vineyards above the Santa Lucia Highlands and try our winemaking stylings with some Pinot Noir. Two weeks after visiting the Balestra vineyard and meeting the grower, the worst fire the Salinas valley area has seen in over 80 years began just a few hills over from our Pinot vineyard and spread quickly. A fire break less than half a mile from the vineyard saved the grapes, but, the damage has been done. Vineyards and grapes don’t need to burn exactly to be affected by fire, just like a jacket you may be wearing, it can be covered in ash, and it can also absorb the “smell” of smoke. In wine grapes this affect is known as “smoke taint.” There has been a significant increase of knowledge regarding the susceptibility of vines and grapes to smoke in the past 10-15 years and there is still a lot we are learning.


For example, if we use our Pinot Noir vineyard as an example, we are able to take a sample of the berries on the vine and test them for specific elements that create the “smokey” characteristics in wine. By interpreting these results we can determine if we want to proceed in harvesting the grapes or if we think there is enough smoke damage to cause flaws in the wine.


However, it is never just as easy as a “black and white” answer. There is a spectrum of the severity of “how much” damage or how concentrated these elements are, AND studies are still being done to quantify specifically at which level these elements really produce SIGNIFICANT negative flavors vs. simply hints of smoke. So… what have I learned about it all? Just like with everything else in farming and wine making, there is never a guarantee and you do your best with the information you have at hand. The good news is that there are some new treatments out to help mitigate some of the smoke damage, but unfortunately there is no magic wand, or “cure all” button to push to make it all go away. Even as I write this article, more fires in Northern California wine country have broken out. I guess I should feel lucky that the issues I am currently dealing with could certainly be much worse.


After all the tests, and research and discussion we still have to make a decision that cannot be boiled down to a “right or wrong” answer. I do know that I have learned a LOT about smoke taint in grapes and winemaking, and anyone who has ever worked with me always lets me know that I tend to do things “the hard way.” I think a friend of mine boiled it down the best regarding the decision…. “Well Caitlin… Fortune Favors the Bold.” (I think he may have stolen that line from someone a bit more notable that he or I).


I guess with all that being said… I must have a weakness for learning from experience. I am excited to say that I decided to move forward with the 2020 Pinot Noir and see how we fare.

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