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Scott Harvey
 
October 10, 2019 | Wine | Scott Harvey

The Effects of the PG&E Power Outage

For the last two days while in the apex of harvest PG&E elected to cut power to the whole Shenandoah Valley and Fiddletown wine appellations of Amador County. They also cut power to Napa Valley and Sonoma as well. We produce wine at three different wineries that are located in Amador County, Napa Valley, and Clarksburg. They say it is due to high wind danger. I’m not sure about the rest of the wine-growing regions in northern California, but in Amador County, there has been no wind event to speak of. I would think that PG&E would have the ability to turn on and off different areas depending on the danger in each.

This will cost our winery in revenue and potential wine quality and will probably cost the Northern California wine industry millions of dollars.

  • We have two tasting rooms in Amador County and are part of a co-operative tasting room in Napa.  Since the POS (point of sale) system or cash registers are run through the internet and on electricity we are forced to close the tasting rooms depriving us of badly needed revenue to stay alive. 70% of our total sales are direct to consumer and the tasting rooms are a big part of it. Even if we did open the tasting rooms and took down the sales information on paper to enter later, there are no people out tasting because they have heard everyone else is closed. 50% of a winery’s sales revenue is generated in the fourth quarter of the year. Our tasting rooms are open daily during October, November, and December to take advantage of the needed sales revenues. I find my anger mounting when I look outside on a perfectly claim sunny day and can not open my tasting room due to PG&E shutting off the power.
     
  • At the apex of harvest, there is a lot of wines in fermenters. The conversion of grape sugar via yeast to carbon dioxide and alcohol is a reaction that creates heat. We have large cooling jackets on out tanks that dissipate the heat and keep the fermentation cool.  When a fermentation gets too hot, bitter-tasting components (phenolics) start to come out of the skins and seeds. This lowers the overall quality of the wines. The cooling system is run on electricity. Luckily, for us, all of the fermentations we have in tanks right now are past the peak period where they are producing high amounts of heat. By leaving the winery doors open the cool night air is enough for us to limp along.
     
  • Delay of harvest.  We want to pick grapes at their optimum ripeness. Not under ripe and not overripe. Two days ago, we were scheduled to pick Vineyard 1869. One most prized 150-year-old Zinfandel vineyard.  Now we have rescheduled for tomorrow depending on PG&E turning the power back on.  Hopefully, it will not be delayed too much longer.

There needs to be some better answers to this problem than just shutting off the power to all of northern California’s wine regions. Otherwise, I can see the lawsuits flying at PG&E at a time they can hardly afford any more lawsuits. The other answer is to put in a permanent high-powered generator for such occasions. Probably at a cost of $20,000 or more. 

Scott Harvey
CEO and Winemaker

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