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PG&E power outages might make some California wine better

Downtown Sonoma
Armando Espinoza delivers paper products to a cafe on Wednesday in downtown Sonoma, Calif., where power is turned off.
(Associated Press)

With California wine country going dark because of power cuts, this year’s luxury Cabernet Sauvignons might be even more coveted.

Some wineries have put grape-picking on pause as utility giant PG&E Corp. carries out unprecedented blackouts across Northern California. Leaving grapes on the vine may have been bad if conditions were rainy and frosty, but the current pause coincides with cool and sunny weather. That means a richer, more balanced vintage could be in the offing.

“To let the fruit hang a little longer, it’ll develop more complex flavors and balance, especially with the cooler weather, which helps with acid development,” said Cate Conniff, a spokeswoman for the Napa Valley Vintners. “If wineries are smaller and the Cab can sit in the sun for a few more days, they’re happy to let it hang.”

Half a million homes and businesses in the northern part of the state have lost power, with that count expected to rise. Bankrupt PG&E is carrying out the biggest-ever intentional blackout, hoping to keep power lines from sparking wildfires as dangerous high winds sweep the state.

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Winemakers are mostly prepared for the outages, Sonoma and Napa Valley wine groups said. Because of wildfires in 2017, many operations already have generators. Others have bought or rented generators, or arranged for grapes to be stored at facilities where there is power, said Michael Haney, executive director of Sonoma County Vintners. However, there may be some smaller wineries that can’t afford the expense of a generator, Haney said.

Winemakers are farmers, who are used to dealing with various weather and environmental disasters, Conniff said. “The show must go on,” she said.

Millions of Californians could spend days without power as the state’s largest utility continues shutting off electricity in a desperate attempt to avoid wildfires sparked by windblown power lines.


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