Many locations in California are afraid that this fire season will prove to be the last they survive.
Wildfire insurance has become an increasingly critical coverage for wineries in California, but many local labels are concerned that they won’t be able to obtain it in future years.
Not only are premiums rapidly rising for many wineries, but for many, it is becoming unavailable.
Newfound Wines owner Mat Naumann said that while he had been expecting his small Placerville (El Dorado County) vineyard and winery’s wildfire insurance premiums to rise again this year – as has been the case every year lately – he hadn’t expected to be cut off entirely. Over the last three years, his premiums had gone from $7,000 to $8,500 to $10,000 per year. Following the catastrophic season in 2020, “I figured, maybe they’ll even rise by 50% or 100%.”
However, when renewal time came around, Naumann discovered that his fire coverage had been entirely revoked. He looked to his insurance broker to find a new carrier, only to continually be denied coverage. As it stands, his vineyard and winery are working their way through the season uninsured.
Wildfire insurance denials are becoming increasingly commonplace, threatening California wineries.
“It’s completely changed the game for me,” said Naumann in a SF Chronicle report. “If a fire tore through and destroyed everything, it would be a deal breaker for Newfound.”
Naumann isn’t alone. Without a policy to pay to replace damaged building, equipment and inventory, many wineries would have to shut down if they were affected by wildfires. The peak of the season for these blazes has yet to occur in California, and many of the state’s vintners, representing a $40 billion industry, have not been able to find the coverage they need to protect their properties in a number of critical ways.
Wines aren’t affected only if a blaze makes its way through the vines. Smoke taint is more commonly the problem, in which smoke from a blaze miles away can infuse the flavor of the grapes with an unwanted and unpleasant smoky taste. Many winemakers were forced to abandon their entire 2020 production because of smoke taint and not an actual fire. Without wildfire insurance, Californian wineries risk a massive financial toll year after year.