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'Wildfires are my biggest concern': Oregon vineyard owners are wary of heat, fires that may follow

Vineyard owners say they are combatting the high temperatures with more irrigation and shade for their grapes — however, smoke and wildfires could pose added risk.

TURNER, Oregon — Continued temperatures above 100 degrees are beginning to take a toll on wine crops. Employees at Willamette Valley Vineyards are working half-days at the vineyard during the triple-digit temperatures.

"The vines basically shut down when it gets over 100,” Willamette Valley Vineyards Director of Winemaking Terry Culton said. “They're just like us, they don't want to be out in it."

Culton said the winery is changing due to a change in climate. Employees keep more leaves on grapes facing west, which receive direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day. Willamette Valley Vineyards employees have also added irrigation systems for some younger vines.

Those systems will help prevent damage to the grapes from the heat. When it is too hot, the grapes won’t ripen. 

But despite that threat, Culton said there are bigger risks to which vineyards are vulnerable.

"Wildfires are probably my biggest concern," Culton said.

RELATED: Oregon State researchers discover wildfire smoke compound in wine grapes

Credit: KGW
Willamette Valley Vineyards Director of Winemaking, Terry Culton

Smoke was visible from southern Oregon fires from the Willamette Valley Vineyard location in Turner, Oregon.

The crops have not been affected yet but could be if smoke worsens into next month.

"The wildfire smoke can severely impact wine quality,” Cody Copp, an Oregon State University assistant professor and horticulturist said. “And for a lot of vineyards and wineries it can make fruit unmarketable." 

RELATED: Oregon wineries consider suing Pacific Power after 2020 wildfires

Copp and Culton both said new technologies are making crops more resistant to heat.

Copp mentioned some vineyards have added overhead sprinklers. But it is more difficult to find ways to combat wildfires and smoke.

"There's not a lot you can do if there's a fire in your area," Culton said.

Culton said the winery has also changed where it plants grapes over the past 20 years, as climate change alters temperatures of landscapes.

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