It has been a disastrous last couple of weeks for the winegrowers of Northern California, some of whom have seen their homes and vineyards directly impacted by an historic spate of wildfires. The LA Times reports that some 200,000 acres have burned across four counties in NorCal: Lake, Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma. The last two of these are famed for producing some of the most expensive grapes, pound for pound, in all of North America, but vineyards in Lake and Mendocino counties are growing in prominence and sought after by winemakers looking to work grape varieties beyond the Cab / Chard binary.
Speaking of Cabernet, elsewhere in the LA Times reports the grape is mentioned as being the one primarily impacted by the fires, as 85% of the region's grape crop had already been picked when these fires started. Smoke taint is a worry as well; the true cost of the 2017 NorCal wild fires won't be known until this year's vintages are released. It's fair to say that natural winemakers in Northern California are among the most vulnerable, because they can't rely on the filtration, blending, and reverse osmosis techniques popular in industrial winemaking to help cover up issues like smoke taint.
But there's a human cost as well, reports Miriam Jordan at the New York Times, most especially for immigrants and their families who play an enormously important role in California wine production. While your favorite Instagram wine dilettante might pick grapes for a week, this job and other support jobs like it are the livelihood for thousands of people across the wine industry in Northern California—people who are already marginalized and discriminated against in American society. When disaster strikes immigrant communities suffer the worst—there were even fears that ICE agents could use the wildfires as a way to round up immigrants for deportation, although Senator Kamala Harris, who should probably run for president, personally confirmed this was not the case and urged families to seek shelter and emergency services.
Jordan's piece at the NYT is a must-read, but chances are you're wondering now how to get involved supporting recovery efforts in the region—or perhaps you've already been working on this over the last few weeks (huge respect to Bon Appetit wine writer Marissa Ross, who organized direct donations to Mentor Me at the Cavanagh Rec Center in Petaluma). One great place to start is Undocufund, a laudable charitable fund created to “provide direct funding to undocumented immigrants and their families to help with expenses incurred directly as a result of the fires.” Other orgs like DirectRelief and Redwood Empire Food Bank are doing critical work, and you can check out a special GoFundMe site with more individual projects.
Please consider donating to these orgs but also, support California by drinking California wines. Make a point to ask what's good at the natural wine shop in your area, or if such a thing doesn't exist yet where you are, check out Domaine LA's web store for a broad selection of excellent California wine offerings.
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Jordan Michelman on Sprudge Wine.
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder of Sprudge. His writing has appeared in T Magazine, The New York Times, Seattle Metropolitan Magazine, and Willamette Week.