Wildfires have devastated Sonoma and Napa Counties in Northern California. Wineries there contributed $85 billion to California's economy last year and are home to over 1,000 vineyards. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 11 (UPI) -- In addition to causing substantial damage and more than a dozen deaths, several large wildfires in Northern California are also threatening the state's famous wine industry -- and could leave an impact that will last for years.
Already among the state's most destructive fires in history -- with already at least 17 people dead and 2,000 structures destroyed -- the damage done to wineries across Northern California may be unprecedented.
California's Napa and Sonoma Counties have been left vulnerable by the flames. The region is home to more than 1,000 wineries and they account for 85 percent of wines produced in the United States.
The Napa Valley Vintners trade association said nine of its members have sustained damage from the fire, while at least four Napa wineries have been destroyed beyond repair -- including historic properties like White Rock Vineyards, which was established in 1870.
Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa and Signorello Estates in Napa were also devastated by the blazes. Others, like the Nicholson Ranch Winery in Sonoma, were damaged but not destroyed.
Luckier wineries like California's oldest continuously owned family winery, Gundlach Bundschu, and the Scribe Winery in Sonoma were did not burn, but will feel an impact.
"A significant amount of acreage will likely be out of commission for a while," a spokesman for the Brown-Forman Corp., which owns Sonoma-Cutrer vineyards, said. "If it's only smoke damage, it's one season. If it's fire damage, it'll be three or four seasons."
Though the majority of grapes have already been picked for the current season, the remaining lot may have to be thrown out due to the effects of smoke. Last year, California wineries contributed $58 billion to the state economy.
Further, tainted grapes cannot be used in high-end wines, as wineries don't want to compromise their brands, agricultural economist Dan Sumner said.
"These wines have to have character and flavor," he noted, "If you've got a reputation for making $100 wines that everyone loves, you're not going to make that vulnerable by slipping in some tainted grapes."
An accurate assessment is yet to be made on the full extent of the wildfire damage. Due to power outges and down phone lines, many wineries are currently unreachable.