How the Wine Industry Can Prepare for Wildfire Season

July 17, 2018

California is known for two things that don’t go well together: a thriving wine industry and a propensity for wildfires. Last year was an especially bad year for wildfires, and the wine industry was hit hard. As a new wildfire season begins, wine country must take steps to prepare.

2017: A Bad Year for Wildfires and the Wine Industry

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CAL FIRE, the state suffered 7,117 wildfires in 2017, and 505,956 acres of land were burned. In 2016, only 244,319 acres were burned – in other words, 2017 was more than twice as destructive as the previous year.

Several of these fires impacted California’s wine country.

According to Business Insider, wineries, as well as hotels and restaurants, were damaged by the fires. Signorello Estate in Napa and Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa were named as two of the wineries that had been destroyed.

In addition to burning buildings and wine stores, fires can also have a negative impact on wine flavor if the harvest is damaged by wildfire smoke.

Thankfully, the wine industry appears to be making a quick recovery from the 2017 wildfires. According to the Wine Industry Advisor, a report from the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University found that damage from the wildfire was limited. Although there was a drop in tasting room sales as fewer people visited the area, 93 percent of wineries suffered no structural damage or long-term impact.  

That’s good news – but the wine industry shouldn’t relax just yet.

Preparing for This Year’s Wildfires

According to CAL FIRE, 2,964 wildfires burned 91,647 between January 1, 2018, to July 8, 2018. Although this doesn’t look bad compared to the totals for 2017, it’s important to remember that the year is far from over, and the worst of the wildfire season is yet to come.

In fact, compared to January 1, 2017, to July 8, 2017, this year has already seen more wildfire activity in terms of both the number of fires and the acres burned. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2018 is expected to be a bad year for wildfires. The National Interagency Fire Center is predicting an above-average fire potential in western states, including California, Oregon and Washington.

The wine industry should take note – and take precautions.

1. Maintain your property to reduce wildfire risk.

According to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, agricultural businesses should take steps to reduce wildfire risk, including the following:

  • Remove highly flammable vegetation from around buildings.

  • Store high-risk items like fuel in noncombustible zones.

  • Remove debris from roofs.

  • Use fire guards around crops.

  • Install sprinklers and a water supply for emergency vehicles.

  • Make sure emergency vehicles have proper access.

See the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety site for more tips on reducing fire risk.

2. Train your team.

When a wildfire starts, every second counts. Whether the fire is advancing from an external location or begins on your own property, your team’s immediate actions can have a crucial impact on the outcome. Create a written emergency and evacuation plan and make sure everyone knows what to do.

3. Obtain the right insurance.

Wineries need to protect their people, their property and their products. They should also maintain business interruption coverage.

The Heffernan Insurance Brokers' Vintners and Growers Insurance specialists are familiar with the winemaking process from start to finish, and whether your business is family-owned or global, your coverage will be tailored to fit your operation’s needs, managing applicable agricultural, manufacturing, and hospitality exposures.

When you partner with Heffernan, we’ll handle all your winery insurance or vineyard insurance needs, so you can focus on crafting the best product. Contact us today to speak with our winery insurance specialists.