Many of you will be aware that there's a big fire burning in the Santa Lucia Mountains north of Big Sur and south-east of Carmel. The Soberanes Fire, which started last week, has grown to over 19,000 acres, and its plume of smoke is easily visible from space:
As you can see from the image above, most of the smoke is being pushed inland by the prevailing winds, but some is collecting in the Salinas River Valley, and was drawn up toward Paso Robles yesterday evening. We ended up sleeping with our windows closed and the air conditioning on last night rather than have the house smell like old campfire. This morning, I arrived at work to see a landscape with blurred edges and a grayish tint, instead of the normal crystal clear, deep blue sky (click on the image for a larger panoramic view):
This isn't the first time we've seen smoky weather here at the vineyard, although we've been lucky to avoid any big nearby fires. Back in 2008, two large fires put a high layer of smoke overhead, giving us the unusual perception of overcast summer days. This year's smoke isn't as thick, although it is closer to the surface.
If grapes are exposed to concentrated smoke over time, they can pick up an oily, smoky taste. This character (typically called "smoke taint") was an issue for many Mendocino and Sonoma wineries in 2008, and seems likely to be an issue for Monterey County wineries this year. That said, we don't think that the amount of smoke we're seeing now will have any impact on our harvest. It's only lightly smoky here, and the forecast is for the weather pattern to shift by the weekend to a more dramatic on-shore flow, which should draw fresh air off the Pacific Ocean, just ten miles west over the coast range.
Meanwhile, we're watching the vineyard go through veraison, variety by variety. Syrah was first. We've seen a few examples of Mourvedre around the vineyard in the past couple of days. And I got a photo of Grenache this morning, still more green than red, but on its way. Even in that photo, you can see some of the smoky haze against the horizon:
Looking again at how advanced we are, I'm reassessing my prediction that we might challenge our earliest-ever harvest. What I'm seeing is more like 2013 or 2015 (roughly a week ahead of average) than it is like 2014 (roughly 2 weeks early). But there's still a long way to go, and a consistently hot August might push things up again. In any case, we know we're likely to see some fruit coming in the last week or ten days of August.
Look for more updates in coming weeks.