June 27, 2008
Usually, Smoke in Wine is from Oak Barrels

Jim Caudill isn't on the front line with crews fighting fires in Mendocino County, but as media representative for the Brown-Forman family of wineries he is on the front line of answering reporter and consumer questions about how the North State's wildfires could affect vineyards and the wines that will be made from them.

Thus, he's taken the initiative to canvas neighboring growers and winemakers about how they think fires, smoke and ash will affect this year's crop. In a press release a short time ago, Caudill says those he's talked with don't see smoke and ash clinging to the grapes to such an extent that it will leave the resulting wines with any sort of bacony, smoky or charred smell and flavor.

"The most interesting comment I heard was this: The ash and soot in the air will inevitably land on the grapes, and winemakers, at least, might like to turn on the frost protection overhead sprinklers, or fill up the spray wagons with water to mist and clean the grapes before harvesting them and bringing them into the winery for processing," writes Caudill.

Growers and vintners in the North Coast, however, face potential water shortages because of a near drought and because they turned on the sprinklers this spring to offset damage from a severe frost.

To the parched conditions and that frost, the fires are only the latest twist of fate to make the 2008 vintage quite possibly the most curious of the century. Or, as Caudill puts it: "After the coldest frost we've had in nearly 30 years, a near drought, and now this, you'll appreciate that many here on the North Coast are awaiting only the arrival of locusts."

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