MARBLE FALLS, Texas (KXAN) — After a week of grief and death, Northern California’s destructive wildfires are showing signs of easing off. The 11,000 firefighters battling “one of the greatest tragedies” to ever strike California are gaining control of the blazes that have claimed the lives of 41 people so far.
For the thousands of people who lost their homes, the long road to recovery is becoming more apparent. The same can be said about the state’s postcard image — vineyards there have lost grape crops, stocks and entire properties.
“It takes so long, you put so much into it, you put everything into it. Our lives, our families are affected by it just with the hours put in to it with harvest,” said Tim Drake.
Drake is the winemaker at Flat Creek Winery in Marble Falls. He’s been watching the fires and paying attention to the destruction.
“If the vines got damaged, it’s at least five years until they get back to producing fruit,” Drake said.
There is somewhat of a silver lining — most of the grapes in California were already harvested from the vine so those that escaped the fire can still be used.
But there is another concern. Smoky flavors in wine are a possibility in the aftermath of the fires. The effect, called smoke taint, occurs when compounds in wildfire smoke are absorbed by vines and berries, ultimately becoming unwelcome flavors in wine.
“It’s just ash and cigarette ashes, the flavor is very unpleasant, very different then a nice smoky meaty kind of flavor that’s desirable in wines, this is the exact opposite,” Drake says. “I know there were crews out picking in the midst of all those fires, I even read reports of trucks full of grapes trying to make it through and around the fires trying to get them processed because we only get one shot a year and it’s not like we can order up some more widgets and make some more.”
Drake estimates 40 percent of Texas wineries import some grapes from California, but he thinks the state will not see a major impact from the fires other than perhaps a price increase — for now it’s too early to tell.
As for helping make-up some of the loss, Drake says it’s not that Texas doesn’t want to help, it can’t.
“We don’t produce enough grapes for Texas let alone to help out to help the supply that’s been lost over there,” he added.
Time may also tell a different story in the way Texas vineyards help supply meet demand. “We have the potential between here and up in the high plains to really be able to form a buffer in the future but not for a while,” Drake said.
While no amount of lost wine amounts to the loss of lives and homes — livelihoods based around the industry may be devastated.
“We only get one shot a year,” Drake said.