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California Wine country eludes Hennessy fire

Published:  20 August, 2020

California’s wine country has so far been spared the wrath of the latest wildfires, which broke out in the northern part of the state on Monday.

In the past, vineyards have acted as something as a fire-breaker for brush fires, The Wine Institute said. This has been the case in the latest blazes, though there have been reports of some outhouses and buildings being damaged at Nichelini Family vineyards, Napa’s oldest family-owned vineyard.

One of the fires, dubbed the Lake Hennessy fire, lies directly to the east of St Helena, Rutherford and Oakville AVAs.

Like the others, it appears to have been a result of a series of unseasonal thunderstorm and lightning strikes which blew through northern California early on Monday morning, igniting dozens of blazes.

Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, declared a statewide emergency on Tuesday (18 August) after a weekend of abnormally high temperatures and storm activity.

The Napa Vinters Instagram page said yesterday: “Currently, the valley and towns inside the valley are safe. The valley floor remains untouched. The #HennesseyFire, which started in the mountains near #LakeHennessey, continued to move east on Monday and Tuesday, sparing the valley floor while putting some of our mountain vineyards in the east in danger. The latest reports indicate that, while some houses have been lost, our mountain wineries in the eastern hills are safe for now.”

It added however, that the fire moving east could have serious consequences for neighbouring Solano County and Vacaville, where many people who work in Napa live and own homes.

Widespread evacuations have now been issued for the area.

In a statement dated 19 August, The Wine Institute, said: “Recent thunder and lightning storms have ignited wildfires in brushland in several regions of California, an unusual weather event for this time of year. While it is a fluid situation, and fires are near vineyards in some areas, no wineries or vineyards have been impacted. In past years, vineyards have acted as natural firebreaks.

“Harvest has begun in most of California’s wine regions, with wineries picking fruit for sparkling wines as well as aromatic whites and some early ripening red varieties. The 2020 growing season has been generally cool and recent warmer temperatures helped ripening in many areas. Vintners are anticipating light to moderate crops with good concentration of flavor and color [sic] as harvest progresses.”

Photo of California's 'Hennessey Fire', credit Kent Porter @kentphotos via Twitter, 19 August