What mass power outages mean for California wineries

Power outages imposed by energy company PG&E to reduce wildfire risks in northern California have seen wineries turn to generators and reschedule grape picking.

On the two-year anniversary of the 2017 wine country wildfires, the Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) began a temporary, mass power shut-off in Northern California in response to extreme weather conditions that could potentially cause more fires.

Since Tuesday night, the outage has affected roughly 800,000 customers, extending to several California wine country regions—including Napa Valley, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Santa Cruz—and could last up to five days in some areas.

A loud, constant hum radiated throughout wine country as wineries powered up expensive generators in an effort to stay open to visitors and keep production running smoothly during the height of harvest.

Ronald Du Preez, winemaker and GM of SugarLoaf Crush, a custom winemaking facility in Sonoma County, reserved a generator back in July when PG&E announced the possibility of future outages.

Although it costs roughly $10,000-a-month to rent, he has 35 clients counting on him to stay up and running.

‘Grapes are extremely expensive and there are tens of millions of dollars of wines under our care, so it’s a no brainer,’ he said.

His facility processed two tonnes of Beckstoffer Georges III fruit just hours after the power was shut off. ‘That’s about $40,000 worth of fruit alone.’

Some wineries have temporarily closed their hospitality suites and tasting rooms. Even Robert Mondavi Winery had orange cones set up outside their entrance on Wednesday (9 October).

mondavi PG&E

Credit: Jess Lander.

Those without backup power are at the mercy of PG&E.

Many wineries have rescheduled grape picks because they are unable to process fruit and run fermentations, although there is understanding about the need for safety-first approach.

Jay Turnipseed, director of winemaking at Rutherford Ranch in Napa Valley, said both the winery and tasting room were closed and that he moved two picks to Friday, hoping he doesn’t have to let the grapes hang longer than that.

‘We’re rolling with the punches. We understand that this is necessary and you take it as it comes,’ he said.

‘We’re really fortunate that we haven’t started picking a tonne of reds and all of our whites are essentially dry, so we’re not that impacted from a wine quality standpoint.’