Craig Becker walked among the vines of Somerston Estate in St. Helena and surveyed the rolling hills before him. Less than two months ago, lightning storms sparked fires that lit the ridges around him and tore through the trees, bushes and crops that covered this sprawling piece of land.

The flames rendered the estate’s surviving vines unworkable, spoiled by the thick smoke that sat in the valley and seeped into grapes, turning their flavor to ash. Like several other vineyards here, Somerston has decided not to harvest any fruit from its 2020 vintage due to damage caused by smoke fumes.

“All of them are tainted,” Becker said as he chewed a grape, then spit it out. “I have it on my tongue right now.”

California has been under near-constant siege by wildfires for nearly two months as flames of historic size, intensity and destruction have ignited throughout the state.

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By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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