Wine County Fires: A Story of Courage and Love

smoke taintOne of the central themes of Beauty and the Yeast is that the aesthetic appreciation of wine involves both a love of the remarkable variations that wine is capable of but also an appreciation of natures unpredictability and capacity to resist human intentions.

As I put it in a recent blog post:

But some people are fascinated by wine because of the continuous, unpredictable variations it produces. We think a wine should always surprise us and we open every bottle hoping to be astonished. Nature is likely to be more creative than a human who is constrained by costs, sales, customer expectations, and what the critics are likely to say. And we think witnessing nature’s creativity is worth paying for even when the result is flawed.

But nature, as they say, is a cruel mistress. The downside of nature’s unpredictability is on display every fire season in wine country. This year, thus far, it is the Caldor Fire in El Dorado County that put wineries at risk. Thankfully it appears the wineries and vineyards have survived largely intact, although there are worries about smoke taint from the constant presence of smoke in the area.

Can a love of nature be sustained even when it gives us something as devastating as a wildfire.

Wine grower Charlie Mansfield of Goldbud Farms put this in stark perspective in a recent interview with public relations consultant Lee Hodo, who graciously sent me a copy of her interview notes:

Wineries that will go down swinging and pivot I’ll do the same for
them. Takes a lot of communication, and a hit financially. But the alternative is to just pack it in.
I don’t give up until no one answers my calls. People who don’t want to be creative or go down
fighting, we can replace them with those on a waiting list.

Roles are reversed, fire was on Sonoma and we got the fall out. Now the fire is on us and
valley is getting the fall-out. Can’t bank on having an easy trip each year. Forests are dryer,
fuel is dryer, it rains less, a lot of people camping and backpacking that don’t know what they’re
doing, crazy lightning storms. I believe the industry here is evolving into a French model– they
don’t irrigate, or won’t make a wine when its not good enough. The future is that we are going
to make wine based on what nature gives us.

I can’t think of a better illustration of how a love of wine is bound up with nature’s volatility. In normal years (at least for the old normal) that meant dealing with the variability of weather patterns. But going forward, it seems, fire and smoke will be the x factor each year.

To survive such an existential threat requires the kind of courage and love expressed by Mansfield.

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