Nancy Sabatini, guest blogger, is the Wine Director of Mainstreet Wine & Spirits in Countryside, Illinois. She holds a certificate from the Wine Spirits & Education Trust (WSET) Level 3, is a certified Italian Wine Specialist, and has graduated with honors from The French Wine School. Nancy has participated in wine lectures, taught trade seminars, written numerous articles, appeared on Chicago radio stations, and traveled extensively within the United States and top wine producing countries. These experiences have allowed Nancy to enhance her knowledge of wine so that she can help others understand and enjoy its complexities.
“On October 8, 2017, Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lake, and Solano counties witnessed an unprecedented windstorm that touched off a series of devastating fires that burned for nearly a week. Virtually all of my vintner, grower, and industry friends and colleagues in these counties have been impacted by the devastation and the speed at which their lives changed. “Thank you, first responders” are written on dozens of hand-drawn signs that honor fire crews and others who came to wine country’s aid. Likewise, community sentiment is reflected in signs that read “The love in the air is thicker than the smoke.”
Productivity in the regions was reduced to a crawl. Just think about the size of the workforce needed to assist the multitude of wineries and the numerous lives that were uprooted. Homes were destroyed and people were unable to see the damage, in many cases, for over a week. Poof. Gone is the life as they once knew. I found it heartwarming to see the immense support neighbors and others offered.
While it may be cliché to say disasters bring out the best in humanity, it doesn’t make it any less true. The selfless resolve of hundreds of firefighters, healthcare professionals, police, and volunteers can’t be overstated. According to Cal Fire, more than 11,000 firefighters were on the lines.
Cyril Chappellet, CEO of Chappellet Vineyards on Pritchard Hill, a 5- year old winery in the direct path of the devastating fires, stated, “Our Napa Valley community is united, resilient, and grateful that today the air is clearing and is charged with the spirit of togetherness.” Even now, resources to battle the impact of the fires continue to flood into the region from throughout California and neighboring states.
How will the wildfires influence the 2017 vintage? The greatest impact to the region’s wine production will be from the effects of the surrounding smoke on grapes still on the vine, but it’s impossible to say how heavy a toll that will take. By the time the fires arrived, vintners had harvested the majority of their grapes. Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers, estimates 90 percent of the region’s wine grapes had been picked. The Napa Valley Vintners reported the same figure, while the Mendocino WineGrowers estimates that most of the white grapes and 75 percent of the region’s red grapes were in.
The wildfires’ timing couldn’t have been worse. Fall is prime time for visitors to Napa and Sonoma, where tourism is a $3.2 billion-a-year industry – or about three times the size of the annual wine grape crop. As many as 10 percent of the visitors come from overseas, which is another aspect we sometimes fail to see. Vineyards destroyed by fire will have to be replanted; grapevines don’t produce wine-ready fruit until three to five years after planting. These are just immediate concerns.
Will California wine industry recover? My personal opinion is yes; we support them in our purchases and will continue to do so. Many of us are most familiar with wines from California and feel comfortable ordering and buying them. In fact, it’s likely you’ve visited California wine country since no passport is needed to appreciate one the most beautiful wine areas in the world. Wine lovers look to The Golden State to find comfort in wines that are consistently delicious, affordable, and easy to purchase and collect. California is the leading wine producing state in the U.S. — making about 90 percent of all American wine. According to a report from the University of California, Davis, the Central Valley produced about 70 percent of California’s wine grape harvest last year; everyday, average-priced wine is unlikely to be affected.
There are many fundraising efforts going on but one of the best ways you can help is to buy Sonoma and Napa wines. I encourage you more than ever to look to California for your holiday wine buying in order to support our neighbors. Nancy Sabatini, Wine Director, Mainstreet Wine & Spirits
California is recovering and those living and working there are resilient. I remain hopeful. When wine is involved, nothing is impossible.”
Thank you, Nancy. ~ Cindy