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Wine Review: California wineries resilient, but buyer beware

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If you are a wine lover, you’re probably aware the California wine counties of Napa and Sonoma are burning. The question arises: “How will this affect the wines and the wine industry?”

We have been presented by a sensational-loving press and TV a tale of gloom, doom and the catastrophic demise of the wine industry in California. Seeking the truth, I phoned Paul Wagner, CEO of Balzac Communications, a top advertising agency for the wine industry. Wagner’s also a member of, a popular podcast, and he’s most definitely a guru of wine and the wine industry.

The first thing he said was that houses burn, vineyards do not. Right now, between 60 and 70 percent of the grapes already have been harvested and are being held in field tanks under an inert gas to prevent oxidation or deterioration. Only a small number of the many winery buildings in the wine counties have been significantly damaged or totally destroyed by the fire, one of which was the famed Signorelli Vineyards.

What effect will this disastrous fire have on the 2017 and future vintages? Again, in almost every case, the vineyards were unaffected; vineyards don’t burn, but the wineries where the wines are made do.

Wagner estimated the after effects of the fire may cause problems at a few of the wineries, but not all of them. He believes that at the wineries damaged by the flames, the white wines will be back to normal in one year and the reds in three to four years. But that does not mean all of the wines from California will be suspect. Only a few of the wineries were severely damaged by the fire; the rest are in full, normal production. There also are many other grape-growing regions in this country beside those of Napa and Sonoma, so information on the wines is of paramount importance when purchasing California wine in the near future.

There are many wine columnists in newspapers and on the internet currently writing about wines, all of whom are quite reputable. Using them as your touchstone, a buyer will not be led astray. Most of these columnists have been writing about wines for many years and will give you an honest and unbiased report. These columnists get their information right from the winery and all of whom I am aware sample the wines prior to publishing their opinion. Please remember, caveat emptor – let the buyer beware – and don’t blindly trust the salesman at your favorite wine store; his job is only to move wines.

California will recover from this disaster. They will rebound bigger, stronger, and better than ever as they have done in the past and, unfortunately, may again have to in the future.

It may take several years before the reverberations from this disaster finally fade away, but fade away it will. If you wish to help the wineries in their recovery, buy California wines; this will show the producers that consumers are still behind them and have faith in them.

Wine columnist Bennet Bodenstein can be reached at


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