California Winemakers Doubling Up as Firefighters

'We play with pumps and hoses, too, except our hoses are full of wine'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 9, 2023 1:05 PM CDT
California Winemakers Doubling Up as Firefighters
Smoke rises over a vineyard as the Glass Fire burns, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Calistoga, Calif.   (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Wildfire season is approaching in California—and winemakers are prepared. After devastating fires in Northern California wine country in recent years, winemakers have rebuilt with fire-resistant materials and learned firefighting techniques, the BBC reports. Alan Viader at Viader Vineyard and Winery in Napa Valley became a qualified firefighter after the Glass Fire destroyed buildings and priceless old vines at his winery in 2020. "There's a huge connection, a real parallel with firefighting," he says of winemaking. "We play with pumps and hoses, too, except our hoses are full of wine. I'm always dragging hoses somewhere."

Viader has also taken steps including paving wider roads for fire trucks to have better access. At the nearby Storybook Mountain Vineyard, 86-year-old Jerry Seps was told he single-handedly saved the winery when he stayed to fight a fire in 2017. "You're not saving a vineyard, you're saving your life," he tells the BBC. "The family's put a lot into it. And it was too much to lose without a struggle." Beyond the danger from flames, wildfire smoke is a huge problem for Seps and other winemakers. After the 2020 fires, he had to pour away the year's wine because "smoke taint" had affected the grapes, making it impossible to produce quality wine.

At the Signorello Estate winery, which burned to the ground in 2017, Priyanka French is overseeing the building of what is intended to be one of the most fireproof wineries around, where wine will be produced in underground caves. She says the industry is looking to the future and she is optimistic despite the problems posed by wildfires. "The glass is half full for me," she says. Experts say wildfire season in the state could be relatively mild this year thanks to an extremely wet winter, but conditions could change rapidly if there are periods of extreme heat, the Napa Valley Register reports. (Read more California wildfires stories.)

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