Record high temperatures hurt California wine harvest

In his family’s four decades of farming vineyards on Sonoma Mountain, Chris Benziger of Benziger Family Winery says he’s never experienced weather like this year.

It’s just after 10 o’clock in the morning, and the Benziger crush pad is humming. Huge white bins of dark, dense clusters of grapes zoom by on forklifts, a sorting machine sputters and spits out unwanted stems, and the uniformly sized fruit tumbles out layer upon layer into a waiting vat.

But — perhaps more than ever before — their journey to the winery this year has been difficult.

"The intensity and duration of our heat spikes was unprecedented. We’ve never seen anything like that before, so it really was a challenging harvest," says Benziger, trying to speak up over the buzz of machines. "We're seeing hotter periods, longer heat spikes, less rain, and then when it does rain, a lot of rain at once."

California Jerusalem fire, Lower Lake & Napa wildfire

17 PHOTOS
California Jerusalem fire, Lower Lake & Napa wildfire
See Gallery
California Jerusalem fire, Lower Lake & Napa wildfire
LOWER LAKE, CA - AUGUST 11: A burn operation is seen along Morgan Valley Road during the Jerusalem Fire on August 11, 2015 near Lower Lake, California. The fire has consumed 16,000 acres after doubling in size overnight and is currently five percent contained. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
AZUSA, CA - AUGUST 15: A hot shot crew descends a scorched ridge at the Cabin Fire in the Angeles National Forest on August 15, 2015 north of Azusa, California. The fire has grown to 2,500 acres with 0% containment under heat wave conditions. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOWER LAKE, CA - AUGUST 11: A Cal Fire firefighter stands in front of a burning bush during the Jerusalem Fire along Morgan Valley Road on August 11, 2015 near Lower Lake, California. The fire has consumed 16,000 acres after doubling in size overnight and is currently five percent contained. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
AZUSA, CA - AUGUST 15: A firefighter aircraft drops fire retardant at the Cabin Fire in the Angeles National Forest on August 15, 2015 north of Azusa, California. The fire has grown to 2,500 acres with 0 percent containment under heat wave conditions. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
AZUSA, CA - AUGUST 15: A hot shot crew descends a scorched mountainside at the Cabin Fire in the Angeles National Forest on August 15, 2015 north of Azusa, California. The fire has grown to 2,500 acres with 0% containment under heat wave conditions. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
AZUSA, CA - AUGUST 15: A hot shot crew sawyer nears the end of his shift at the Cabin Fire in the Angeles National Forest on August 15, 2015 north of Azusa, California. The fire has grown to 2,500 acres with 0% containment under heat wave conditions. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOWER LAKE, CA - AUGUST 11: Smoke rise from charred vegetations during the Jerusalem Fire along Morgan Valley Road on August 11, 2015 near Lower Lake, California. The fire has consumed 16,000 acres after doubling in size overnight and is currently five percent contained. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
LOWER LAKE, CA - AUGUST 11: A Cal Fire firefighter uses a hand tool to control a burning bush during the Jerusalem Fire along Morgan Valley Road on August 11, 2015 near Lower Lake, California. The fire has consumed 16,000 acres after doubling in size overnight and is currently five percent contained. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
LOWER LAKE, CA - AUGUST 11: Flames and flying embers from the Jerusalem Fire are seen along a ridge adjacent to Morgan Valley Road on August 11, 2015 near Lower Lake, California. The fire has consumed 16,000 acres after doubling in size overnight and is currently five percent contained. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
LOWER LAKE, CA - AUGUST 11: Two firefighting bulldozers construct a containment line while battling the Jerusalem Fire near Morgan Valley Road on August 11, 2015 in Lower Lake, California. The fire has consumed 16,000 acres after doubling in size overnight and is currently five percent contained. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
LOWER LAKE, CA - AUGUST 11: A Cal Fire logo on a fire truck is covered with fire retardant along Morgan Valley Road during the Jerusalem Fire on August 11, 2015 near Lower Lake, California. The fire has consumed 16,000 acres after doubling in size overnight and is currently five percent contained. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
LOWER LAKE, CA - AUGUST 11: A Cal Fire firefighter looks on as he battles the Jerusalem Fire along Morgan Valley Road on August 11, 2015 near Lower Lake, California. The fire has consumed 16,000 acres after doubling in size overnight and is currently five percent contained. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
LOWER LAKE, CA - AUGUST 11: Residents watch the Jerusalem Fire from a distance at Jerusalem Valley Road on August 11, 2015 near Lower Lake, California. The fire has consumed 16,000 acres after doubling in size overnight and is currently five percent contained. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
LOWER LAKE, CA - AUGUST 11: A firefighter monitors the Jerusalem Fire from Morgan Valley Road on August 11, 2015 near Lower Lake, California. The fire has consumed 16,000 acres after doubling in size overnight and is currently five percent contained. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
LOWER LAKE, CA - AUGUST 11: A group of inmate firefighters marches from their drop point on Morgan Valley Road to battle the Jerusalem Fire on August 11, 2015 near Lower Lake, California. The fire has consumed 16,000 acres after doubling in size overnight and is currently five percent contained. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
AZUSA, CA - AUGUST 15: A firefighter aircraft drops fire retardant at the Cabin Fire in the Angeles National Forest on August 15, 2015 north of Azusa, California. The fire has grown to 2,500 acres with 0% containment under heat wave conditions. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Climate extremes and record-breaking temperatures in Napa and Sonoma valleys have put vintners to the test this year. At Benziger Family Winery, the estate vineyards suffered from 12 days of temperatures above 100 degrees and spikes beyond 115 degrees this summer, the hottest many here can remember.

All that heat takes its toll on the growing grapes, shutting down most vines at a pivotal stage as they try to just stay alive.

"What we’re really worried about is 'raisining,' because raisins are little sugar bombs and they can really mess with the vintage of a wine," explains Benziger. He estimates that the winery will lose about 10 percent of its harvest as a result of grapes that couldn’t take the heat, dehydrated, and shriveled up.

It's a similar story for many across Sonoma and Napa valleys.

At Hudson Vineyards in Carneros, Lee Hudson grows 200 acres and 17 varieties of grapes. Like many vineyards here, Hudson and his crew harvest at night to keep the grapes cool — sweeping through row after row and slicing clusters from the vine into bins before heaving them over into a moving tractor.

"For the first 18 days of harvest, we basically worked straight 18 days — as many as 10 hours a day. So it was exhausting," says Hudson, walking his vineyard in a cowboy hat.

"We had nine straight days of over a hundred degrees. And that required that we get the grapes off the vine before they got too sweet," explained Hudson, crunching crisped brown leaves underfoot as he walks between vineyard rows. They sprinted to pick their prized chardonnay when a Labor Day weekend heat spike threatened to dehydrate the fruit.

Devastating wildfires hit California's wine country

62 PHOTOS
Devastating wildfires ravage California's wine country
See Gallery
Devastating wildfires ravage California's wine country
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 09: Burned lawn chairs sit next to the swimming pool at the Journey's End Mobile Home Park on October 9, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. Ten people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 1,500 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: Fire consumes a barn as an out of control wildfire moves through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
YOUNTVILLE, CA - OCTOBER 09: A Los Angeles County firefighter monitors approching flames near a building as an out of control wildfire moves through the area on October 9, 2017 in Yountville, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - OCTOBER 09: Burned out wine bottles sit on a rack at the fire damaged Signarello Estate winery after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Napa, California. Tens of thousands of acres and hundreds of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SONOMA, CA - OCTOBER 09: A burned out home sits next a vineyard after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Sonoma, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - OCTOBER 09: The remains of the fire daaged Signarello Estate winery after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Napa, California. Ten people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 1,500 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: A resident rushes to save his home as an out of control wildfire moves through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: A resident rushes to save his home as an out of control wildfire moves through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A burned home smolders in Glen Ellen, California on October 9, 2017. Multiple wind-driven fires continue to ravage the area burning structures and causing widespread evacuations. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: The remains of fire damaged homes after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: Fire consumes a barn as an out of control wildfire moves through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: Fire consumes a home as an out of control wildfire moves through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: The remains of fire damaged homes after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: A resident rushes to save his home as an out of control wildfire moves through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: Cows stand on a patch of unburned grass after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: Burned cars sit idle after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: Fire consumes a home as an out of control wildfire move through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: Fire consumes a home as an out of control wildfire move through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: The remains of fire damaged homes after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: Flames consume a home as an out of control wildfire move through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: Flames consume a home as an out of control wildfire move through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: Fire consumes a home as an out of control wildfire move through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: The remains of fire damaged homes after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
An aerial photo of the devastation left behind from the North Bay wildfires north of San Francisco, California, October 9, 2017. California Highway Patrol/Golden Gate Division/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
An aerial photo of the devastation left behind from the North Bay wildfires north of San Francisco, California, October 9, 2017. California Highway Patrol/Golden Gate Division/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
A burned home smolders in Glen Ellen, California on October 9, 2017. Multiple wind-driven fires continue to ravage the area burning structures and causing widespread evacuations. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A garage door is left standing in front of a smoldering home in Glen Ellen, California on October 9, 2017. Multiple wind-driven fires continue to ravage the area burning structures and causing widespread evacuations. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A gas line spews flames at a burned out property in Glen Ellen, California on October 9, 2017. Multiple wind-driven fires continue to ravage the area burning structures and causing widespread evacuations. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
YOUNTVILLE, CA - OCTOBER 09: A Napa Valley public worker sprays water on a building as an out of control wildfire moves through the area on October 9, 2017 in Yountville, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
YOUNTVILLE, CA - OCTOBER 09: A Los Angeles County firefighter monitors approching flames near a building as an out of control wildfire moves through the area on October 9, 2017 in Yountville, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - OCTOBER 09: Fire burns a trailer and parking structure as an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Napa, California. Tens of thousands of acres and hundreds of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - OCTOBER 09: The remains of the fire damaged Signarello Estate winery after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Napa, California. Tens of thousands of acres and hundreds of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - OCTOBER 09: The remains of the fire damaged Signarello Estate winery after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Napa, California. Tens of thousands of acres and hundreds of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - OCTOBER 09: The remains of the fire damaged Signarello Estate winery after an out of control wildfire moved through the area on October 9, 2017 in Napa, California. Tens of thousands of acres and hundreds of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
CALIFORNIA, USA - OCTOBER 10: A view of a warning banner in San Francisco as a wildfire from the Santa Rosa and Napa Valley moves through the area in California, United States on October 10, 2017. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CALIFORNIA, USA - OCTOBER 10: Smoke rises as a wildfire from the Santa Rosa and Napa Valley moves through the area in California, United States on October 10, 2017. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CALIFORNIA, USA - OCTOBER 10: A view of a San Francisco gulf as smoke covers the sun as a wildfire from the Santa Rosa and Napa Valley moves through the area in California, United States on October 10, 2017. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CALIFORNIA, USA - OCTOBER 10: A view of a San Francisco gulf as smoke covers the sun as a wildfire from the Santa Rosa and Napa Valley moves through the area in California, United States on October 10, 2017. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 09: Burned out cars sit next to a building on fire in a fire ravaged neighborhood on October 9, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. Ten people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 1,500 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
CALIFORNIA, USA - OCTOBER 10: A view of a San Francisco gulf as smoke covers the sun as a wildfire from the Santa Rosa and Napa Valley moves through the area in California, United States on October 10, 2017. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 09: A resident goes through personal belongings in a parking lot next to a fire damaged Arby's restaurant on October 9, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. Ten people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 1,500 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 09: Flames consume a section of the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country on October 9, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. Ten people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 1,500 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 09: Burned out cars sit next to a building on fire in a fire ravaged neighborhood on October 9, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. Ten people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 1,500 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 09: Smoke continues to rise from the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country on October 9, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. Ten people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 1,500 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SONOMA, CA - OCTOBER 09: An out of control wildfire approaches Gundlach Bundschu winery on October 9, 2017 in Sonoma, California. Ten people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 1,500 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
An aerial shows damage caused by wildfires in Santa Rosa, California, U.S October 11, 2017. Picture taken October 11, 2017. REUTERS/DroneBase TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
An American flag hangs from a tree in a neighborhood destroyed by wildfire in Santa Rosa, California, U.S., October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Area residents walk through a neighborhood destroyed by wildfire in Santa Rosa, California, U.S., October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Wine stains are seen on a fermentation tank at Paradise Ridge Winery after being destroyed by the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, California, U.S., October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) trucks are seen parked on a road between homes destroyed by the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, California, U.S., October 11, 2017. Picture taken October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A wildfire is shown from the air near Atlas Road during an operation to rescue people trapped by wildfire in Napa, California, U.S., October 9, 2017. Photo taken October 9, 2017. Courtesy California Highway Patrol/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A burnt tree stands amidst the destroyed Journey's End Mobile Home Park during the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, California, U.S., October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Smoke and flame rise from the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country during the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, California, U.S., October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
An aerial view of properties destroyed by the Tubbs Fire is seen in Santa Rosa, California, U.S., October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
NAPA, CA -OCTOBER 12: Flowers mark the spot where his father died as Mike Rippey walks through the ruins of the house of 100-year-old Charles and 98-year-old Sara Rippey, who were killed in the Atlas Fire just after it began, on October 12, 2017 near Napa, California. Thousands homes have burned and two dozen people have been confirmed dead so far as numerous wildfires continue to spread in eight Northern California counties. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 11: An aerial view of homes that were destroyed by the Tubbs Fire on October 11, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. Twenty one people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 3,000 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SANTA ROSA, CA -OCTOBER 10: A toy car is left scorched in a neighborhood destroyed by fire near Cardinal Newman High School on October 10, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. In one of the worst wildfires in state history, at least 1,500 homes have burned and 11 people have died as more than 14 wildfires continue to spread in eight Northern California counties. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
GLEN ELLEN, CA - OCTOBER 09: A resident rushes to save his home as an out of control wildfire moves through the area on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in widespread wildfires that are burning in Napa and Sonoma counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Homeowner Phil Rush looks at the remains of his home destroyed by wildfire in Santa Rosa, California, on October 11, 2017. Rush said he and his wife and dog escaped with only their medication, a bag of dog food when flames overtook their entire neighborhood on October 9. The toll from Northern California's ranging wildfires continued to grow as officials said the fires destroyed up to 2,000 structures and killed at least 17 people. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA -OCTOBER 11: The body of a cow that died in the Atlas Fire is seen in Soda Canyon on October 11, 2017 near Napa, California. In one of the worst wildfires in state history, more than 2,000 homes have burned and at least 21 people have been killed as more than 14 wildfires continue to spread with little containment in eight Northern California counties. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Hudson measures the turgor pressure — basically the water content — of the leaves to determine how much to irrigate before heat spikes hit. But Hudson estimates he will still have lost 10 percent of his crop to the heat.

Related: European Winemakers Face a Withering Harvest

At Crocker and Starr Winery in St. Helena, winemaker Pam Starr crouches down beside her vines, peering underneath clusters and lopping off those that didn’t survive the heat.

"That won't make it into the tank," she says, cutting one cluster with pruning shears.

"We always hope that our weather predictors can be predict the weather; I was hoping they’d be wrong this time," says Starr, who has been making wine for 34 years.

This year, she estimates they’ve lost 15 percent of their 3,500 case production — including about half of her most prized block of grapes. “It affects us in a very large way with a very small — boutique volume,” says Starr.

"This year we’re going to really put our winemakers’ hats on. And with the lower crop weight, the berries have less juice. And so with less juice we have to sort of change up what we’re gonna do in the winery," says Starr, nonetheless keeping her bright smile.

They pruned back their grapes' canopy — the protective leaves growing around grape clusters — much less this year in hopes of shielding them from the sun.

"We were on patrol every day, walking the vines," says Starr. "Asking ourselves, you know, what could we do? And that which we could do, we did. And that which we couldn’t do — which was to control the weather — we just sat by and watched."

Back at Benziger, an optical sorter uses lasers to identify raisined or dehydrated grapes from perfectly plump ones.

"This thing has really saved our skin this year," says Benziger, gesturing as the machine removes stems from grape clusters, separates the grapes, and shakes out any unwanted leaves or debris.

"Only the best grapes go in right here. These things are perfect berries now, and this will guarantee that we have a great vintage." He’s willing to lose the lower-quality fruit to ensure what does make it into the barrel is the best of his vineyards.

"The good news is we'll have a high-quality vintage. And that's more important for us," says Benziger.

Since most wineries expect the unexpected and plan ahead for losses like these, consumers shouldn’t expect to pay more for a bottle of wine despite the challenge for winery owners.

Lee Hudson is optimistic about this year’s surviving fruit, but can’t be too sure of the heat's true impacts. "We need to wait until the spring, when we have finished wines and we look at 'em," says a cool, calm Hudson, flanked by his dogs. "I think that it’s too early to really to determine what the outcome’s going to be."

Read Full Story

Markets

NASDAQ 6,875.80 13.48 0.20%
S&P 500 2,662.85 -1.26 -0.05%
DJIA 24,585.43 80.63 0.33%
NIKKEI 225 22,758.07 -108.10 -0.47%
HANG SENG 29,222.10 428.22 1.49%
DAX 13,125.64 -57.89 -0.44%
USD (per EUR) 1.18 0.01 0.70%
USD (per CHF) 0.99 -0.01 -0.53%
JPY (per USD) 112.69 -0.85 -0.75%
GBP (per USD) 1.34 0.01 0.69%

Can't get enough business news?

Sign up for Finance Report by AOL and get everything from retailer news to the latest IPOs delivered directly to your inbox daily!

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.