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California wildfires threaten Napa Valley and Sonoma wineries and vineyards

  • Fires are tearing through Napa and Sonoma counties, home to many vineyards and wineries.
  • Photos showed the William Hill Estate Winery sign partially burned and Signorello Estate engulfed in flames.
  • Harvest season is underway, so the bulk of grapes should already be off vines, said Christian Butzke, professor of enology at Purdue University.

Fires are burning through California's wine country, threatening the region's vineyards and wineries.

Some people were forced to evacuate their homes after a blaze started Sunday near Santa Rosa.

Multiple fires tore through Sonoma and Napa counties on Monday, prompting school closures and even hospital evacuations. Over 12 hours, 15 fires have burned 73,000 acres and destroyed 1,500 homes and commercial buildings, according to Cal Fire. One death was confirmed in Mendocino County.

The status of the region's wineries remained unclear Monday. The Napa Valley Vintners and the Sonoma County Vintners both said they are still working to gather information and make sure their members are safe.

A partially burned sign is seen at William Hill Estate Winery in Napa, California on October 9, 2017, as multiple wind-driven fires continue to whip through the region.
Josh Edelson | AFP | Getty Images
A partially burned sign is seen at William Hill Estate Winery in Napa, California on October 9, 2017, as multiple wind-driven fires continue to whip through the region.

A Getty news photo showed the William Hill Estate Winery sign partially burned. Its owner, E. & J. Gallo Winery, said in an email that the winery buildings are intact and that the winery sustained only minor cosmetic and landscaping damage, as well as minimal vineyard damage.

"Our top priority remains the health and safety of our employees, and members of the community. We are grateful to all the first responders and firefighters helping to aid members of the Napa and Sonoma communities. Our thoughts are with everyone impacted by these devastating wildfires," the company said, in a statement.

Other news photos showed Signorello Estate engulfed in flames. The winery did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

Napa Valley contributes more than $13 billion to the local economy and more than $50 billion to the national economy annually, according to the Napa Valley Vintners association. Napa and Sonoma also attract tourists.

In Napa Valley, there are about 700 grape growers and 475 physical wineries, of which about 95 percent are family owned, according to the Napa Valley Vintners. Some 85 percent of Sonoma County's wineries are family owned, according to the Sonoma County Vintners.

The Signorello Estate winery burns in the Napa wine region in California on October 9, 2017, as multiple wind-driven fires continue to whip through the region.
Josh Edelson | AFP | Getty Images
The Signorello Estate winery burns in the Napa wine region in California on October 9, 2017, as multiple wind-driven fires continue to whip through the region.

Harvest season is underway. Grape varieties ripen at different times, but many grapes have already been harvested by this point in the season, said Christian Butzke, professor of enology, or the study of wines, at Purdue University.

Still, grapes that survive the fires could absorb a smokey flavor from the air, he said, and will need to be checked.

"Luckily, it's late enough that a majority of stuff has been harvested in September, and there's not too much left, but you never know. There might still be things fermenting and people filling barrels with red wine," he said.

Wine can absorb scents in rooms they're being produced in, he said, so there is a chance smoke can affect taste.

Robert Keenan Winery said on Facebook that all is well, although there are distant fires in all directions. There is no internet and very poor cell reception. A generator is providing energy.

"All in all, the winery is a tad isolated and we are a bit apprehensive, but at least for the moment everything is functioning and we're working in the cellar," the winery said in the post.

Grgich Hills Estate was closed Monday because there was no power. In a Facebook post, the winery said it was wishing the best for all of Napa and Sonoma as firefighters do their work.

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