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Wine Spectator: A Vintage Lost?

October 9, 2020

The Glass fire, which erupted Sept. 27 in the hills above St. Helena, burned wineries and vineyards. It also halted harvest and may prove to be the knockout punch for the 2020 vintage in both Napa and Sonoma. The preceding LNU Complex fires in August had already impacted the vintage, as smoke lingered over the region for weeks when much of the year’s crop was going through veraison and thus acutely susceptible to smoke taint. The Glass fire only further jeopardized the vintage, and very few wines will be made this year as a result.

“It is one of the saddest years ever,” winemaker Phillipe Melka told Wine Spectator. “Usually, harvest is a happy time. We have very, very little hope.”

Melka consults for 25 clients throughout Napa and Sonoma. His own winery in St. Helena survived a close call, but a guesthouse and part of his home and vineyard were all seriously damaged by the Glass fire. He estimates that 35% to 38% of Napa’s crop he’s surveyed has been harvested to date, but believes only a portion of that could result in bottled wine, given the final impact of smoke taint. “Everything we test is (destined for) bulk, bulk, bulk,” because of smoke taint, he lamented. “Possibly 70% will be declassified.”

Fellow consulting winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown echoed Melka, estimating that perhaps only 20% of the Napa crop will get bottled. “We have clients that didn’t vinify any grapes this year, but none have made that public knowledge, mostly out of respect for those who are giving this year their best shot.” Wine Spectator has a full report on the wildfires’ impact on the 2020 vintage.—Aaron Romano

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