CARMEL, Calif., Aug. 9 (UPI) -- Twelve wineries' grapes are being exposed to heavy smoke from the Soberanes Fire, which has burned more than 67,092 acres north of Northern California's Big Sur in Carmel Valley.
The grapes are close to ripening as they undergo veraison -- changing color, Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association executive director Kim Stemler said.
The fire, which started two weeks ago, is 50 percent contained of as Tuesday morning, Cal Fire reported in its latest update. Some areas remain evacuated and Highway 1 has limited access in some areas.
More than 5,000 firefighters are fighting the blaze, which has destroyed 57 homes and 11 outbuildings. It was started by an illegal campfire in Garrapata State Park, according to Cal Fire.
The 12 wineries cover about 325 acres, less than 1 percent of the total wine grape crop in the county, Stemler said.
Stemler said the sustained smoke exposure can can change grapes' smell and flavor.
"This year is going to taste differently," she told KRON, adding that the grapes are tested regularly at a lab.
Because of smoke taint, many wineries may choose to make more rosés that require growers to remove the skin right away.
For pinot noir, the skin is left on during the fermentation process and is more susceptible to smoke than ones with thicker skins used to make malbecs, Galante Vineyards owner Jim Galante told KRON.
"Everybody's just going to do their best and try to survive with their crops. We just don't know if we're hoping for the best, but we're preparing for the worst," Galante said.
Coastal winds are quickly moving the smoke away.
"The majority of the smoke is headed to the southeast or out to sea," Jason Smith of Paraiso Vineyards and Smith Family Wines told the Santra Cruz Sentinel. "In the Salinas Valley, the same marine dynamics that create our winds and fog off Monterey Bay have provided a protective inversion — the smoke is trapped on top of the inversion layer. In the afternoon, our famous winds scout the hillside vineyards and clean out the air under the inversion."
County agriculture authorities say they don't expect to see any effect from smoke and ash on row crops.
"We can't find any effects on strawberries or vegetables," said Bob Roach, assistant Monterey County agricultural commissioner to the newspaper. "There's not enough smoke and ash to affect any operations in the Salinas Valley."
All of Monterey County's 60 wine tasting rooms have stayed open during the fire.
Cal Fire expects the fire to be totally contained by Aug. 31.