Napa Valley has been on fire

Since early August when the Hennessey fire started in the eastern part of the county near Lake Hennessey, the Napa Valley has been on fire. It has since merged with a few other wildfires and has formed the LNU Lightning Complex fires, burning over 363,000 acres in Napa, Lake Sonoma and Solano counties.



California wine country is devastated

The LNU Lightning Complex fires, along with the Glass fires have completely devastated wine country at a time when the wine industry is struggling to survive with the pandemic killing tourism to the area.

While there have been few human casualties, the physical damage to wineries has been great. Many wineries have suffered some damage with a few reporting a complete loss of buildings and equipment.


A difficult decision

The fires have burned for 8 weeks solid in the area during prime harvest time. Owners now have the difficult decision on whether to harvest the grapes at all. The problem is not if the vineyard has burned. It is the 2 months of extremely poor air quality with ash raining down on the vineyards.


Would you like essence of burnt rubber?

Smoke taint has been studied in the US and Australia for the last few years. When it shows up in the finished wine, it presents as ashtray, campfire or burnt rubber. The chemical compounds from the smoke settle on the grape skins and can combine with the sugars, resulting in the unwanted flavor profiles.

Some winegrowers are filing a claim for crop insurance, while others will still make some wine, but sell the product to craft distillers. While not ideal, there is some cashflow coming in for the smaller wineries.

Smoke will continue to be an issue

The wildfire season on the west coast is becoming longer and more intense every year. This problem will continue to rear its ugly head from time to time in wine country. Research indicates that some levels of smoke taint can be mitigated but not eliminated.


Reach out to your favorites on the west coast and buy a case or two to help them out.


What I am drinking:


2018 Alpha Omega II Chardonnay

This Chardonnay was naturally fermented, unrefined and unfiltered. It is a blend of six different clones of Chardonnay (76, 95, Wente, Hyde, Rued, and Robert Young) that each bring their own characteristics to this multifaceted wine. Despite its long aging process in 45% new French Oak, the wine reaches a great balance due to a lot of stirring, which gives it a California Meursault feel. This wine brings elegance and finesse into a great traditional California Chardonnay. Pick it up for about $30.



Banner and feature grapes, fire, and smoke images courtesy
Compositing performed by EH Stafford




Adam Arlen, Sommelier


Adam Arlen: “I am passionate about wine because it is history in a bottle.” He is the sommelier for The Peninsula Club in Cornelius, NC. Originally from Allentown, PA, he believes you should always branch out and find new things. His goal is to never stop learning and continuing to grow both personally and professionally. A fun fact about him: “I was a nuclear engineer on a submarine in a previous life.”





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