North Bay wineries race against the clock to finish production

GLEN ELLEN, Calif. (KGO) -- It has been nail-biting time as wineries in the midst of fermenting the fall grape harvest have faced time-critical issues: Not getting grape deliveries due to road blocks and closed roads and not having power to run equipment. It took grit and determination for two wineries to keep operating by arranging to get large generators and to keep the wine production going -- co-owned Imagery and Benziger in the Sonoma County town of Glen Ellen.

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A sleep-deprived Mark Burningham, the operations manager, has been working nonstop since the fire swept across vineyards along Highway 12 in the early morning hours eight days ago. Power was lost at an inopportune time to operate the fermenters and other processing equipment. During fermentation, the temperature in tanks has to be maintained at 80 degrees. Burningham estimates three out of four wineries in the area have suspended operations.

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Because of the generators, he was able to save $2 million worth of wine at Imagery and $1 million worth at Benziger. However, only 17 out of 30 fermenters at Imagery are operating because grapes are not able to be trucked to the winery. An effort to address that problem is now being worked out with the county agriculture commissioner.

Some vineyards still have grapes that were due for harvest in the days after the fire, but those are not likely to be salvaged for wine making due to smoke taint. The membrane of the grapes absorbs the smoke, imparting a taste that Burningham compared to an ash tray.

We'll have more on this story coming up on ABC7 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Click here to follow David Louie on Twitter.
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