19 July 2021

Wine storage room in California

(click photo to supersize) 
Last September, a wildfire tore through one of Dario Sattui’s Napa Valley wineries, destroying millions of dollars in property and equipment, along with 9,000 cases of wine.

November brought a second disaster: Mr. Sattui realized the precious crop of cabernet grapes that survived the fire had been ruined by the smoke. There would be no 2020 vintage.

A freakishly dry winter led to a third calamity: By spring, the reservoir at another of Mr. Sattui’s vineyards was all but empty, meaning little water to irrigate the new crop.

Finally, in March, came a fourth blow: Mr. Sattui’s insurers said they would no longer cover the winery that had burned down. Neither would any other company...

... in 2008, smoke from nearby fires reached his grapes for the first time. The harvest went on as usual. Months later, after the wine had aged but before it was bottled, Mr. Smith’s brother, Charlie, noticed something was wrong. “He said, ‘I just don’t like the way the reds are tasting,’” Stu Smith said.

At first, Mr. Smith resisted the idea anything was amiss, but eventually brought the wine to a laboratory in Sonoma County, which determined that smoke had penetrated the skin of the grapes to affect the taste.

What winemakers came to call “smoke taint” now menaces Napa’s wine industry.

“The problem with the fires is that it doesn’t have be anywhere near us,” Mr. Smith said. Smoke from distant fires can waft long distances, and there is no way a grower can prevent it.

Smoke is a threat primarily to reds, whose skins provide the wine’s color. (The skins of white grapes, by contrast, are discarded, and with them the smoke residue.)
From a New York Times article about the fires in the Napa Valley. 


  1. My daughter worked as a winemaker in Kelowna,Canada. A few years ago their wines were also affected by smoke taint. They acquired a special filter that removed the taint and ran the wines through it. Time consuming. The filters cost several hundred thousand so it's not like making coffee.

  2. On the one hand, yeah, it's sad that fabulously rich wine barons have to be slightly less fabulously rich for a little while because their product tastes microscopically different and that spooks the market. But they ruin the landscape everywhere and suck the rivers and groundwater dry for their product (flavored alcohol) which causes nearly 800,000 new cancers every year, not to mention a million machinery-related deaths, and otherwise inebriated crime of all collar-colors, including domestic violence and murder. Mister Sattui, who the article mentions, was part of the moonscaping and carpeting with vines and fogging with pesticides and herbicides all of Sonoma County; he recently moved north into Mendocino County, to bulldoze whole mountainsides flat for more. When someone complained in the local paper, Sattui wrote a saccharine puff piece about how he's always been about loving and cherishing the natural earth, and Sonoma County is just too built over nowadays, and that's why he loves Mendocino County now-- because it's unspoiled. He's working with nature, he says, and merely aesthetically "flattening" things a little, you know, for Mother Earth and all.

    1. Geez Marco, it sounds like your first experience with wine caused you discomfort, and it must have left a bitter taste in your mouth. Have you ever delved into the wine business and learned about it? You might be surprised at the economic impact it contributes to the USA, and the rest of the world. Don't take my word, though. I suggest that you take a gander at this non wine industry trends analysis and 'edumacate' yourself. Cheers! https://www.toptal.com/finance/market-sizing/wine-industry


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