A mix of soil, diverse climate, and sunshine gives California wine its distinct and delicious flavor. In fact, here in our state we produce 90% of the country’s wine.
Here in Northern California, we’re globally known as a premium wine region. The Valleys of the Russian River, Alexander, Dry Creek, and Sonoma; the hills of Mayacamas and many more are home to 400+ wineries.
Its not just the flavor and enjoyment of drinking a glass of Cabernet that make wine country special. It’s the appreciation of craftsmanship. Its the discipline, skill, and connection to Earth that our region takes pride in. We do it better than many others. Our wine culture has influenced how we grow and prepare our food in this region, our relationship to the planet and subtly the artistry with which the Bay Area conducts business and organizes households. We are craftsmen and connoisseurs both.
When I lived in Southern California, I got a crash course in fire ecology when the property at which I was teaching Earth Science was in a catastrophic wild fire. I was tasked with redesigned curriculum for a mostly burned ecology trail. What I learned then was the essential role fire plays in the natural cycle of ecosystems. Many ecosystems have evolved with fire as a contributing factor in the renewal and regeneration of habitat.
For example, some plant species need fire to germinate or reproduce and some animals depend on these fire followers for food or shelter. Generally speaking fire is seen by most ecologists as an essential component to biodiversity.
But it’s not just plants and animals that depend on fire. It’s the soil itself. Latent acidic compounds in the soil burn off giving soil after fire a much higher pH level. Fire can affect texture and structure of the soil. Charcoal and ash tend to absorb new nutrients, and with fewer leaves and vegetation the soil can absorb more moisture.
Wine and its production is such a huge part of our culture and economy here. Full transparency, I know nothing about growing grapes or making wine outside of what I’ve seen on a few wine tours. What I do know is that fire alters the landscapes it consumes. In the moment and the weeks that follow, it appears catastrophic. It seems like the soil is dead.
The magic of science is dancing under the surface and tiny organisms adapted to just this moment are beginning to do their work to rebuild. It takes time, but the soil will once again be fertile.
Mixed up in this years soil are the tears and sweat of our neighbors and friends who’ve lost so much. As for the 2017 vintage, I can’t say how the aroma, bouquet or finish might taste. But if wine takes on the flavor of the soil, the climate it grows in, the containers in which its stored, then the grapes grown and processed this year and in those that follow will hint to what we've endured last week in October.
Bound to the ashes is the courage, resiliency, and love of the people who inhabit these lands. Our 2017 vintage may end up a tasting a little sour for others, but it and all the wines in years to come will have notes of endurance, grit, grace, and compassion.
We artists and crasftmen, we know one thing for sure.
It’s not our wine that makes us great, it’s what we put into it.
It’s the love we give to every thing we do.
It’s what we’re made of.
Many people will continue to need our support in weeks to come. I encourage you to donate to Redwood Credit Union Fire Relief Fund. https://www.redwoodcu.org/northbayfirerelief