Here’s the longer answer:
More than 90% of the grapes had been harvested by the time the fires hit the region in early October.
So in the universe of grapes that might be used to make wine here, only 10% remained on the vine during the fire and might have suffered what’s referred to as “smoke taint” which produces noticeably smokey aromas or flavors in the wine. (Ironically, some wineries purposefully store wine in oak barrels that lend a smoky flavor to the wine, but of course, winemakers’ careful selection and oversight of the fermentation process ensure the end product is not too smoky.) Fortunately, even three-quarters of the cabernet sauvignon varietals which ripen and get picked later in the season were already harvested and removed from the threat of smoke and fire. Whew!
Winemakers want to make you happy.
No winemakers we know want you to get a bottle you consider sub-standard; they are deeply committed to producing great wine in Napa and Sonoma. So any grapes that remained on the vine after the fires go through more than the usual screenings by the winemakers to ensure they meet their standards. Not only do they pass visual and taste tests upon picking, if there is any doubt about the grapes’ quality due to the fires, they have been sending samples to special labs for testing.
In some cases, even laboratory testing cannot confirm that a residual taste of smoke won’t affect the end product. But not to worry, if the winemaker does decide to go ahead and process a batch of grapes because she or he is reasonably certain it will produce great wine, the end product will still be rigorously quality-tested before bottling and selling it.
Rest easy; future bottles of wine from Northern California’s beautiful wine country should be as enjoyable as ever!