fireAs the Rocky fire rages, vintner Ryan Zepaltas is tracking its every move; he wants to make sure the Lake County vineyard he sources fruit from is not in its path.

So far the 20-acre vineyard of sauvignon blanc grapes hasn’t gone up in flames. But the vines could still be affected by the smoky skies overhead.

“We’ll pull cluster samples and send them to the lab to see if we detect smoke taint,” Zepaltas said. “It’s way worse on red wines because they ferment on the skins. It’s like steeping them in the smoke. With white wines we’re pressing juice off the skins right away.”

At risk is 300 cases of wine, Zepaltas said. If he chooses not to harvest it or use the fruit, it amounts to a loss in sales.

“It’s a summer driver wine, a wine club wine and if that goes missing, I’ll have to find something to replace it.”

In the 2008 fire Zepaltas said his vineyards were not close to the flames because they were higher in elevation but the smoke hung around.

“We did a filtration process to take away the smoke taint, but it made wine monochromatic; it stripped the wine so it wasn’t distinctive.”

While there are naturally  far more important casualties at risk — namely human lives — the grape vines are minor in comparison, yet they’re also at risk.

With this perspective in check, the vines are something people  like Zepaltas will continue to keep  close tabs on. When it comes to fire, the vintners’ call is a tough one. I recall tasting several wines affected by the 2008 fire and they were either one dimensional or off-putting from smoke taint.

Smoke and wine don’t marry well.