Sonoma County wineries expect 2020 vintage shortages due to California wildfire smoke

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ByWayne Freedman KGO logo
Friday, September 25, 2020
Sonoma Co. wineries expect wine shortages due to wildfire smoke
Fall should be the best time of year in Sonoma's Wine Country, but if you looked around Sonoma Square today, you might think otherwise.

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Fall should be the best time of year in Sonoma's Wine Country, but if you looked around Sonoma Square today, you might think otherwise. It's mostly empty.

In the tasting room at the Ledson Hotel, nary a soul, except for the staff and the owner.

"I have never seen it like this," said Steve Ledson. He's 5th generation of the family that first planted grapes in this valley, now dealing with a fall season he'd rather forget, but will need to remember. Even now, Steve and other growers are dealing with the aftermath of our smoky September.

"You have to be prepared for the worst. You cannot run this business on a year-to-year basis," Steve said.

RELATED: First came COVID-19, then wildfire 'topped it off': Wine Country grapes damaged by smoke, lab confirms

We saw some of the damage during a ride into one of Steve's vineyards with his dog, Pistol. It was going to be the worst kind of show and tell. "I am going to show you grapes we cannot pick," Steve said.

Behold what had been a promising crop of Petite Syrah, ruined by smoke, left on their vines to fall on the ground. It's all about taste. Steve put one of the grapes in his mouth. "I am picking up an ashy flavor," he said.

"You can't fix that?" ABC7's Wayne Freedman asked.

"No," Steve answered.

It's been a tough season for the grapes all around. They weathered 115-degree heat and then the smoke. It affects mostly the reds because they ferment with their skins on. The skins have that smoky taste.

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"In 2020 there will be no Sonoma Valley Estate Syrah," said Steve with a note of resigned finality. "The whole industry is affected by this."

In winemaking, that equates to the loss of a family member. A vintage unfulfilled. In an industry where people pride themselves on working with what nature gives them, this is the rarest of occurrences. We asked Steve Ledson about the emotional impact of that.

"Not good. Not good," he answered.

Saying those words nearly moved a very tough man to tears.

But not all is lost. We will see whites this year because they ferment without the skin. And some rose's.

RELATED: 'It's a miracle': Napa's historic Nichelini Winery spared from Hennessy blaze

At his nearby facility filled with tanks, Steve is also hoping for at least some Pinot Noir. He pulled and pressed some grapes this morning from an untainted portion of the vineyard. Still, he makes no guarantees for how they will turn out, or for 2020.

Well, Steve did make one guarantee, actually.

"It's the story. 2020 is going to be a heck of a story. We don't know the outcome, yet, but it sure will be a story," he said.

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