California Dreaming: Golden State's wine industry recovering following pandemic, wildfires

NAPA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- The Golden State is not only the largest wine producer in the United States, it's one of the largest producers in the world. But the vineyards of California are facing some new and big challenges.

In 2020 alone, the COVID-19 pandemic and wildfires led to billions of dollars in loss to vineyards across the state.

However, thanks to trade associations, like the Wine Institute, the history of California wine success and the resiliency of the vintners, California still expects to remain the wine capital of the United States and a powerhouse in the world.

RELATED: Despite some companies leaving, California set to remain as tech capital

"We are the fourth largest wine producer in the world. Italy, France, Spain, California," said Guglielmo Winery President George Guglielmo. "The industry is here. People love going to the wine country, people love going to wineries, people love coming to relax. The fact that we are producing good wines in this state is because you have to, the consumer expects it."

"The Guglielmo Family's roots go back to the original home site here that my grandfather purchased in 1925," said Guglielmo. "That's been the centerpiece of our existence and we take great pride in what we do. It ties into so many aspects of our history and the quality of the wines that are produced in the state. You've got a wide variety of grapes that grow throughout the state with different regions having different personalities. It's a very interesting industry and it's ever-changing. The wine industry has always been a strong contributor to the state's economy and I don't see that changing. When you tie it into the quality of the wines and the experience that people have when they do visit California, I think it's a real big plus for California."

RELATED: California state parks get unexpected funds to deal with wildfires, climate change

"What makes California the center of the fine wine industry in the U.S. is the combination of climate, soils and the devotion that those in the business have to make the best wines that we possibly can," said Jones Family Vineyards Owner Rick Jones. "Despite all of the inherent advantages that California has for making great wines, we are facing some challenges. The COVID pandemic closed down restaurants, that were a big part of the market for consuming California wines. We had to pivot and wineries have done an amazing job of trying to change focus in the face of that pandemic. Then we've had the wildfires, particularly in the North Bay, that this last year was devastating. There's an estimate that the cost to the wine industry alone from the 2020 fires was $2 billion. Our small vineyard was about a mile from where the Glass Fire broke out on Sept. 27. Within four hours the fire had rushed through our property and we lost about a third of the vines as they were protecting our home and protecting the rest of the vines. All of the trade associations, the Wine Institute and, here in the Napa Valley, the Napa Valley Vintners Association responded very quickly to all of the challenges we're facing."

"We are the public policy advocacy group for 1,000 California wineries and we help advocate for legislation and regulation on behalf of the industry," Gladys Horiuchi of the Wine Institute said. "The Wine Institute has gotten involved with a coalition to advocate Governor Newsome to put funds in the state budget to prevent wildfires. Of course, during the pandemic, we were instrumental in making sure that the winery employees were safe. We helped the wineries understand some of the protocols that they needed to do. There are grapes grown in 49 of the state's 58 counties, so there are vineyards everywhere. Californians has can visit wine country just about anywhere in the state. There's a lot of talent in California, we have a lot of people who've been in business for several generations. Everybody has challenges and I think this industry is very resilient."

Our special docuseries "California Dreaming" explores the challenges, solutions and people striving to keep the Golden State great, and the California Dream alive. Download our app on Roku, AppleTV, FireTV or AndroidTV to watch the special now on your TV!

Copyright © 2021 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.