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Local wineries recover from wildfires, COVID-19 pandemic

MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. (KION) This past year, the wine industry took a major hit, but along River Road, the COVID-19 pandemic was not the only challenge for local wineries. Mother Nature added to an already difficult year.

The pours, swirls, and sips were put on pause. Today, the way your wine tastes is a little different from what you might be used to. Indoor bars are now used as storage, while patios have become the new tasting rooms.

"It’s still a little bit more challenging because they are requiring
reservations for most places so that makes it a little less free,
spontaneous, yes spontaneous, less spontaneous," says wine enthusiasts and friends Cathy Dunning and Janet Watkin.

For Odonata Wines, owner and winemaker Denis Hoey is looking on the bright side, despite the previous chaos.

"It’s been a fun year-- fun tongue-in-cheek," Hoey says. "The fires kind of affected us. The floods affected us. COVID affected us. It's been a challenging year. I'm still standing here and I'm still smiling and I am doing ok."

Back in late January, an atmospheric river hovered over the river fire burn
scar area causing debris flows. Odonata Wines suffered due to failed coverts.

August's fires took a toll on the winery industry as a whole. According to a statewide report from The California Wine Industry, damages due to wildfires in 2020 amount to roughly $3.7 billion dollars in lost winery structures and more than $57 million in tasting room sales due to closures during wildfires. $41 million grapes not harvested due to smoke exposure amounting to about 165,000 tons.

"There were a lot of days we were playing UPS driver. You know, took a lot of special orders and went all around the county, Santa Cruz County. We were more delivery guys, more than anything else during that time we had to do what we had to do to survive at that point... and we did." said assistant winemaker Junior Banuelos.

Even locals who saw the fire torch near the River Road pavement were happy to be back, even with COVID adjustments still in place. Pulling up a chair at your favorite winery and sipping a glass of that red or white, are signs that our communities, businesses and River Road are springing back to life.

"They did our tastings in these little beakers, so they would set you up with a flight of little beakers so you could kind of have a tasting alongside the flight," said Cammie Jones, a professional organizer on the Monterey Peninsula. "We miss our wine tasting we are really happy to be out here."

There are several local wineries you can support, whether you are in Monterey, Santa Cruz or San Benito Counties. It is best to call or send an email to double-check if reservations are required.

If you would like to support a local business, you can check out the 831 Local Listings on the KION website or list your own business.

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Erika Bratten

Erika Bratten is a weather forecaster for KION News Channel 5/46.

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