Now that the Horseshoe 2 and Monument fires that threatened southern Arizona’s wine county are extinguished, it is time to take stock of how the vineyards and wineries of southern Arizona were impacted and will be impacted in the future. One thing is for sure, Arizona’s wine industry has never faced a wildfire threat like this before.
First, we are all fortunate that no loss of human life occurred. After that, the biggest concern from the wine industry was the potential for loss of homes, winery buildings, equipment and the vines themselves. As the flames from the Horseshoe 2 fire roared down the Chiricahua Mountains toward our vineyard, our first concern was protection of the property. We made sure that combustible fuels, like brush and dead wood, were cut down and removed from around the vineyard and buildings. We also filled all of our picking bins and fermentation tanks with water in order to quickly replenish any firefighting equipment that may have been needed to protect the property. We had over 4000 gallons of water ready to go.
Fortunately, the firefighters heroically stopped the fire less than two miles away from Lawrence Dunham Vineyards. Unfortunately, this was not the case on the other side of the mountain where Colibri Vineyards was damaged by the firestorm.
Our next concern was the heavy smoke from the fire which could have impacted the grapes that had already formed on the vines. A couple of years ago, Northern California had wildfires and many of the grapes were smoke tainted to the point of being unusable. Many of the wines that were made from these grapes were of poor quality and had to be treated and sold at bulk prices. Fortunately, our vineyard was upwind of the fires for much of the event. We did experience several smoky mornings but our grapes were still green and hard, providing a barrier from the smoke’s impact. Later in the growing season, the impact from smoke could have been more significant and damaging.
Our attention now turns to how the fires will impact Arizona’s wine country in the coming months and years.
We don’t know how the micro-climates that make our area so unique will be impacted, but we do know that significant wildlife habitats have been disturbed or destroyed. That means that animals and insects will be on the move to find new sources of food and new homes. Hopefully these new “residents” will not take a liking to the vineyards! We have already seen evidence of bears around the vineyard and we will need to be on the lookout for other potential destructive visitors.
There is also a concern about the flow of water coming off the mountains. The loss of vegetation and debris caused by the fires will influence the way water behaves. Past fires have clogged traditional drainage areas and creeks and actually changed watercourses. Hopefully these changes will not cause flooding issues for the vineyards in the coming months and years.
The lesson learned from these tragic fires is to be prepared. Providing defensible space is critical, whether it is a vineyard, winery building or your personal home. When the area is tinder dry and the wind blows, firefighting efforts are not going to be able to save the unprepared!
Article by Curt Dunham, Owner/Winemaker, Lawrence Dunham Vineyards, Pearce, AZ.
Photos of the Horseshoe 2 Fire by Mike Barnacastle.
Originally Published in Arizona Vines and Wines Fall 2011 Issue