While it’s 5:00 here in the east, west coasters still have time to muse about the upcoming weekend for a few hours yet. But if there’s anything that signifies the coming of the weekend, it’s deliberating about what to whet your 5:00 whistle with. For extra points, say that five times fast.
This morning in Free Chat Friday, we got encouraging news from The Boss Lady that a little thing called “sky” was peeking through the smoke-filled valley where we depend on their grapes to get us through many Fridays — and other days that end in “y.”
Adding insult to pandemic injury, the West Coast wildfires are threatening many vineyards with smoke damaged crops. More than 90 fires have decimated 4.6 million acres across thirteen states, and for the wine industry the fires couldn’t have come at a worse time. Grapes are most susceptible to smoke taint between varaison (the beginning of ripening) and harvest, just when the fires broke out.
When grapes are exposed to smoke, aromatic compounds develop in the grapes, but they can’t necessarily be detected by taste or smell, until they’ve been fermented. And it may take years for the taint to truly emerge. In other words, wines could develop that bottom-of-the-firepit charred flavor after a few years in the cellar.
Vintners have been known to use activated charcoal and spinning-core technology to eliminate taint on batches of fermented wine, but it’s a risk to alter the identity of the wine.
While growers in Washington and Oregon are optimistic for the vintage, areas of Southern Oregon, Napa, and Sonoma are faring less well.
One grower with contracts in the Yorkville Highlands, Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast, pulled the plug on 2020 before the fires even got going. He said “for a variety of reasons, mostly COVID-related safety concerns in our small space, but also because of how horrific 2020 has been horrific – I mean, it’s the year granny died and everyone was stuck in their house for six months. No one wants to remember this year. I don’t think the vintage will sell.” (For more on reports from specific growers, look here.)
So here we are. It’s 5:00 somewhere. I’m suggesting we raise a glass to our friends on the West Coast, as we wish them better days with bluer skies, cooler temperatures, and salvageable crops.
Tonight I’m opening a bottle of Chambourcin. Cheers, friends. Whatcha got?