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California North Coast wine grape contracts get more stringent on smoke damage in 2021

in Wildfire Recovery
Smoke rises over a vineyard as the Glass Fire burns, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Calistoga, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

After the major North Bay wildfires in 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019, vintners in the region have been increasingly interested in strengthening the fruit-quality clauses and force majeure (calamity) clauses in their grape purchase contracts, while growers want more the contracts to give them more security from rejected fruit blamed on smoke damage, according to local attorneys.

This issue has come to the foreground after the Walbridge, Hennessey and Glass fires of 2020 resulted in a lot of fruit that wasn’t picked, with some estimates putting that total into the tens of thousands of tons.

“We’re seeing a lot of activity in terms of renegotiating (grape contracts) or less willingness on the winery side to go into long-term contracts to maintain flexibility,” said Erik Lawrence of GVM Law in St. Helena. “And certainly (vintners are wanting to) revise their contracts to address issues with smoke-tainted fruit.”

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