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Wine Spectator: California Wildfire Update

August 22, 2018

California’s largest wildfire on record continues to grow as it burns through parts of Mendocino, Lake, and Colusa counties. Since igniting July 27, the Mendocino Complex blaze, which includes the River and Ranch fires, has scorched more than 389,000 acres and claimed the life of one firefighter. The blazes have threatened vineyards and wineries in parts of Lake County and sent plumes of smoke into the air.

The fires have not damaged any wineries and have only caused minimal damage to vineyards. Some wineries, including Steele, were forced to close due to mandatory evacuations but have since reopened. Vintners are more concerned about how the resulting smoke could affect their grapes as harvest approaches.

Nearly 3,500 firefighters are still battling the fires, which have destroyed 157 residences but are mostly burning in remote terrain in the Mendocino National forest, at the northern end of the county. The River fire, which threatened the communities of Lakeport and Kelseyville, was 100% contained as of Aug. 13, according to Cal Fire, the state’s department of forestry and fire protection.

But the Ranch fire, which was 76% contained as of Aug. 19, continues to burn near the eastern shore of Clear Lake and into Colusa County to the east, fueled by dry vegetation and hot weather. Cal Fire estimates it won’t be fully contained until Sept. 1.

In early August, smoke lingered over vineyards near the towns of Lakeport and the neighboring Red Hills AVA for nearly a week. Beckstoffer Vineyards, one of the largest growers in Lake County, sent its staff home due to the smoky conditions in its three vineyards in the Red Hills appellation.

The Lake County Winegrape Commission reports that about 10 acres of vines were damaged by the fires. There are no reports of damage to wineries. “(Growers) were very diligent about having workers in the vineyards when conditions allowed,” Debra Sommerfield, president of the Lake County Winegrape Commission, told Wine Spectator. Conditions have improved and the fires are now burning 15 miles north of the vineyards. Evacuations have been lifted for most of the towns in the region. Wine Spectator has a full report.—Augustus Weed

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