The autumn of 2017 will go down in history, not for the exceptional quality that may (or may not) unfold in certain areas, but for the wildfires that have devastated the Californian wine regions of Sonoma and Napa, as well as northern Spain and Portugal. In all of these regions, the fires c
ontinue to burn as I write this, with some containment in the US and a little hope of rain in Europe.
When I last looked, nearly 300,000 acres of land had all but been destroyed in California. To give perspective on this, the French grape Picpoul de Pinet grows in a wine region of just 2,500 acres.
As a previous employee of the Fosters Group, (now Treasury Wine Estates), I have visited the beautiful Californian regions extensively and cannot begin to imagine the devastation to both land and life that my former colleagues are experiencing.
Many people are relatively unfamiliar with Californian wines. Aside from the big supermarket brands (sold low, stacked high and largely grown from vines further inland), Californian wines are not widely known. Yet it’s a fact that the region produces some of the top wines in the world. Why don’t we see them around? Two reasons : a) the US market is soaring and hence there is less importance on export; and b) top Californian wines are simply way over most people’s budget. I enjoyed a fabulous Pinot Noir recently with an eye-watering retail value of £40.00 / bottle!
It will be months before the full impact will be understood. The good news is that in California, Portugal and Spain, much of the 2017 crop had already been picked and was safely tanked away. Whether there is smoke damage to the ferments remains to be seen. Let’s hope not.
Elsewhere in the world, the weather has been less deadly, but just as impactful. France experienced localised frosts earlier in the year, followed by extraordinary heat over the summer, followed once again by isolated frosts. Germany too has suffered from loss of fruit through frost.
All this is pointing towards a significant wine shortfall across the world, but particularly in Europe. Suggestions are as follows :
Suffice to say that grape prices are soaring and it will be interesting how retailers manage the inevitable hike in finished wine prices.
As for Brexit’s impact, let’s just not even go there for now!