Wine Talk: California Wine Country, a Paradise Lost

Another season of wildfires threatens an already reeling wine industry
August 31, 2020 Updated: August 31, 2020

When wildfires ravaged California wine country in 2017, four wine industry public relations pros swung into action with a GoFundMe campaign that raised nearly $100,000, plus matching funds from a handful of wineries. The four were San Francisco Bay Area-based Kimberly Charles, Tia Butts, Katie Calhoun, and Rebecca Hopkins.

As flames engulf much of California’s grape-growing regions once again, the ladies are back at it, plus Los Angeles-based Katherine Jarvis. In a press release, they note that California produces 81 percent of all wine made in the United States and is the world’s fourth-largest producer.

They also noted that as of Aug. 24, there were 19 fires raging over an area covering 949,697 acres, with only 20 percent containment. The wine regions affected are all in Northern California, including the high-profile Napa and Sonoma that are significant tourist attractions.

Their 2017 campaign was directed at farmworkers. In their Aug. 24 announcement, they pledged a similar effort. Anyone wishing to contribute to direct relief for those affected should visit the 2020 Wine Country Fire Relief Fund on the GoFundMe website. Anyone with questions should email press@charlescomm.com or call Charles Communications at 415-730-0064.

The California wine industry is an important component of the U.S. economy and employs more than 700,000 workers. Already rocked by COVID-19 shutdowns and, in some cases, severe reopening restrictions, the California wine industry is reeling.

Wildfires as harvest approaches have become more common and grown in intensity in recent years. One colleague has seen her home burn twice in recent years. Evacuations have become common. Wine Spectator writer Tim Fish recently asked on Facebook how many bottles of wine he should pack in his “bug-out” bag. Yes, everyone in the fire zone is packed and ready to flee at a moment’s notice.

The vineyards of Northern California are surrounded by heavily wooded hillsides that have dried out and are ready to burn by the end of summer. It doesn’t take much to spark a blaze. The most recent fires seem to have been started by lightning strikes.

Even those a relative safe distance from the flames are affected by the smoke and poor air quality. Yes, these folks live in an idyllic setting and enjoy a lifestyle that is the envy of many. But there are times, and this is one, when it is a paradise lost.

Tasting Notes

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer’s enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

Gustave Lorentz 2018 Pinot Gris, Alsace, France ($19.99): Value alert: This is one of the finest $20 white wines you will ever find. Perfectly balanced, combining richness and freshness, it shows luscious notes of dried apricot and peach, a hint of melon, and impressive length on the palate. Back up the car, open the trunk, and load it by the case! Best value. Rating: 93.

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Gustave Lorentz 2018 Pinot Gris, Alsace, France. (Courtesy of Quintessential Wines)

Eponymous 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($59.99): This is winemaker Bob Pepi’s label, and that fact alone merits respect. One of the finest winemakers in the Napa Valley, Pepi all too often flies under the radar as a consulting winemaker for various other brands. This vintage of Eponymous soars with richly layered dark fruits, a hint of graphite, and impressive depth with big, bold tannins that will ensure longevity. Rating: 96.

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Eponymous 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. (Courtesy of Eponymous Wines)

Canvasback 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain ($84): If you’re wondering why so many wine enthusiasts are excited about the wines of Washington, look no further than this beauty from Washington’s Red Mountain district. Bold and muscular, with impressive extract that would be the envy of top wineries in the Napa Valley, the 2017 Canvasback is a towering example of Washington cabernet at its very best. This one shows aromas of blackberry and cassis, fine tannins, and a long finish that delivers plenty of oak spice. Rating: 95.

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Canvasback 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain. (Courtesy of Duckhorn Wine Company)

Jordan 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley ($58): Jordan cabernet sauvignon has been a California classic for more than four decades, yet it surprisingly remains affordably within reach for those wine enthusiasts reluctant or unable to spend $100 or more (sometimes considerably more) for comparable California cabernet. The 2016 is an example of prime Jordan, with rich aromas of blackberry and cassis, a strong savory note, subtle oak spice, and supple tannins. And it won’t break the bank. Rating: 95.

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Jordan 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley. (Courtesy of Jordan Winery)

Pascual Toso 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, Maipu, Argentina ($24.99): Though cabernet sauvignon in Argentina is overshadowed by the excellence of Argentine malbec, there does exist a fine lineup of Argentine cabs for those willing to look. Pascual Toso’s estate-grown grapes from the Maipu district of Mendoza deliver exceptional depth and complexity, which you will find in this outstanding Reserva. Notes of blackberry and blueberry with an overlay of wood spice and supple tannins make for a mighty tasty package. Rating: 90.

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Pascual Toso 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, Maipu, Argentina. (Courtesy of Quintessential Wines)

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at Creators.com. Email Robert at whitleyonwine@yahoo.com. Copyright 2020 Creators.com