California Winery Using Smoke-Filled Grapes to Make Brandy, When Life Hands You Smoky Lemons…

Photo: SAMUEL CORUM (Getty Images)

It seems like every week there are new stories about wildfires decimating California. To carry on the tradition that 2020 is the worst year, the state is currently burning. And, while the fires have destroyed people’s homes, their possessions, and their livelihoods, it’s also destroyed the wine-making industry.

Crops have been burned and even grapes that remain have been left with a tainted, smoky flavor that wouldn’t be palatable in most wines. But, since they don’t want to completely trash their crops, wineries have to do something to stay afloat. One winery is taking the smoke-tainted grapes and instead of making wine, is making smoky brandy.

In the past few years, California’s Napa Valley has many wineries ravaged by fire and the folks at Hoopes Vineyard decided to take proverbial lemons (actually grapes) and make lemonade. Although in this case, the lemonade is actually brandy.

If you aren’t familiar with brandy, it’s a spirit made by distilling wine. That’s the simplest way of describing it. Cognac is a well-known brandy variety made from grapes in the Cognac region of France. Other notable varieties include Armagnac, Calvados, and Pisco.

Since wildfires are nothing new, Hoopes Vineyard actually took their soot-covered, smoke-tainted grapes and distilled brandy back in 2017. It was pretty much the only way to make use of the severely tainted grapes as they couldn’t be used to make wine and insurance refused to help with the fire damage to the crops.

Hoopes Vineyard owner Lindsay Hoopes collaborated with master distiller Marianne Barnes to craft a smoke-tainted wine that was distilled into a brandy. It’s currently still aging and will be available near the beginning of 2022. Since it doesn’t look like California’s wildfire problem will be figured out in the near future, there’s a pretty good chance Hoopes (and maybe other wineries) will continue to make this and other smoky products in an effort to survive by any means.

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