2020 wildfires and smoke damage cost Woodinville winery its entire vintage release

A renowned winery in Washington announced it will not release a 2020 vintage due to smoke damage. The owners of Betz Family Winery in Woodinville said their vineyards were impacted by the Evans Canyon wildfires last September. 

"There is just nothing and it’s extremely sad. And we’ll be honest, we certainly hoped, we tried, we prayed, we hoped, but it just wasn’t meant to be," said Bridgit Griessel, owner and president of Betz Family Winery. "It’s devastating for all of us."

She said smoke and ash blanketed their vineyards in the Yakima Valley, Columbia Valley and Walla Walla Valley. After picking the fine wine grapes, Griessel said their consulting winemakers immediately detected smoke taint.

"We very quickly said, ‘Ok let’s get the tests, let’s get the analysis, let’s understand what we are really dealing with.’ We got onto every single Zoom call, we spoke to as many professors as we could," said Griessel. "We started to understand what [smoke taint] really would mean and how it evolves, not only in the early stages, but the late stages too like how it can evolve in bottle."

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The team spent countless hours of rigorous testing trying to salvage something from the damaged grapes. However, Griessel said the smoke just wasn’t palatable. 

"From muted fruit flavors all the way through to astringency. And in some ways you only ever get it on the back end of the palette after you’ve taken a sip and I would get this strong sort of smokiness to it. It really does show up in a variety of ways," said Griessel.

Ultimately, the winery decided not to release a 2020 vintage. The team made the announcement Tuesday.

"It was a very scary decision to make, not only from a financial perspective but on a multitude of levels. You only get one shot a year to actually make wine, and it wipes out that entire vintage year for you," said Griessel. "It’s an entire vintage gone. It’s an entire year of revenue gone."

Steve Warner, President of the Washington State Wine Commission, said not releasing 2020 wines is an individual business decision. In a written statement, he said the commission is "confident" smoke impact is not widespread. Warner further stated the "vast majority of wineries will release their 2020 wines."

For Betz Family Winery, shelving the 2020 batch was the only choice.

"Quality is paramount to us and there’s no way we were ever going to release a wine that we couldn’t stand next to proudly," said Griessel. "This is our own personal decision and something that we are standing by in terms of what we have assessed in our winery."

To bring in some revenue, the winery will open its private tastings to the public by appointment. The team will also use the winery for public seminars and educational programs…just about anything they can do to survive the financial loss.

"You’ve got to be resilient, as anything in life, and be creative. So, we have a plan in place," said Griessel.

Currently insurance is not available in the industry for damage or loss from smoke and ash exposure.

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