Wrath of Wildfires Puts California Wine Industry at Risk

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In a year scarred by nature’s fury with hurricanes ravaging the South and the Caribbean, the scene is shifting west. California is now reeling from the devastation wrought by wildfires in the northern part of the state that are laying waste to that state’s wine industry.

California produces 85% of the nation’s wine, and it is the fourth-largest producer of wine in the world after France, Italy and Spain. The wine industry is responsible for $57.6 billion in annual economic activity and employs 325,000 Californians. Annually, the state produces 238 million cases of California wine. California wine makers pay $7.6 billion in taxes and $17.2 billion in wages annually.

The industry is also a tourist magnet, attracting 23.6 million tourist visits to California wineries each year and generating $7.2 billion in annual tourism expenditures.

Wine country in California means most of the state, with wine grapes grown in 49 of 58 counties. It’s mostly a family business, with 4,700 bonded wineries in the state, and many of the businesses are multigenerational.

The wildfires in northern California have claimed the lives of 31 people, and the death toll from the wildfires in wine country exceeds that of the 1991 Oakland Hills fire, which totaled 25.

The Los Angeles Times reported that an estimated 2,834 homes were destroyed in the city of Santa Rosa alone, along with about 400,000 square feet of commercial space, Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey said in a news conference Thursday afternoon.

Earlier this week, property data analyst CoreLogic published an analysis of how many properties in California were at risk and determined that more than 172,117 homes in the Napa and Santa Rosa metro areas, with a combined reconstruction cost value (RCV) of more than $65 billion, are at some level of risk from wildfires. The analysis is calculated based on homes within those two areas and is based on active fires in Napa and Santa Rosa.

In Santa Rosa County, 122,925 properties are considered low risk, 2,589 are moderate risk, 5,766 are high risk and 2,705 at extreme risk. In Napa County, 35,130 are considered low risk, 415 are moderate risk, 1,021 are high risk and 1,564 are at extreme risk. Statewide, a total of 9.1 million homes with a combined RCV of $3.1 trillion are at some level of risk from wildfires in California.