Growers won’t be able to fully assess vineyard damage from the October fires until next growing season. But they say that in many instances the vines served as a fire break, halting the flames’ progress.
“I don’t think there’s a question,” said Jim Regusci, who farms more than 3,000 acres in Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties. “(The fires) may burn in a few rows, but that’s where it’s defensible space. It slows them down. It stops them. There’s no question there.”
Green vineyards lack a flammable understory and benefit from regular irrigation, Regusci said.
Regusci offered a photo of a blacked hillside of chaparral and wild grasses in the Atlas Peak area where the fire ran up against a vineyard that slowed its advance.
The Atlas Fire damaged 22 acres of predominantly cabernet sauvignon vines at Jim and Laura Regusci’s namesake winery and ranch in the Stag’s Leap District. While estimating that four of the 22 acres had been completely burned, the Reguscis said the full impact on all the vines is yet uncertain.
“You won’t know until spring,” Jim Regusci said.
The Reguscis have dealt with fire damage in their vineyards before. “It takes you two years to really understand,” Jim Regusci said. “You’ll see bud push and you’ll see growth patterns that have changed.”
With the vines heading into dormancy, the team at Regusci is tending less to the vines themselves and more to amending the soil with compost and taking erosion control measures. That has meant putting out 2,000 bales of straw and more than a mile of wattles and silt dams.
Erosion control has also been the focus at Artesa Vineyards and Winery across the valley in the Carneros region. The Partrick Fire claimed tracts of vineyard belonging to Artesa, including two small blocks of chardonnay, said vineyard manager Jesus Hernandez.
Hernandez said that along with erosion control, the team at Artesa is also assessing where repairs will eventually need to made in the vineyards to materials like drip hose that were damaged by the fires.
“So when we come back in the spring, we can focus on the areas that were affected, basically do all the repair and maintenance before bud break, as Mother Nature allows for it,” he said.
As for fire damage to grapevines, there may be cause for optimism depending on the severity of the heat brought on by the fire. Speaking at a Napa Valley Vineyard Technical Group meeting on wildfire recovery last week, USDA researcher Dr. Andrew McElrone noted the plant tissue of grapevines “is actually pretty resilient … it’s just a matter of how intense that heat would have been on that.”
Even for the vines at Regusci that appear to have been completely burned, Laura Regusci remains hopeful. “They look like they’re not alive, but there’s some resiliency in the vine, that after winter and having rain there’s a good chance it’ll push back in the spring.”
“But,” she said “we really won’t know until that time comes.”
For severely damaged vines, Jim Regusci said there was “no question” that they would be replanted. “This is what we do,” he said. “We farm grapes. I mean nature has just dealt you a fire this year … that’s just part of what agriculture is.”
The team at Artesa is also considering the prospect of replanting, Hernandez said. But it would need to find the right clonal selection and rootstock in the marketplace, which likely won’t be until early next year.
“We won’t be able to make a sound decision before then,” he said.