SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY, Calif. - Thick black clouds of smoke from the hill fire in Santa Margarita could be seen from the Wolff vineyard in the Edna Valley on Tuesday, sending shock waves through owner and wine grape grower Jean-Pierre Wolff.
"That's when you start getting a little bit of palpitation because you hope that the fire is not gonna crest to the top and then start migrating downhill if wind is blowing in the wrong direction," Wolff says.
Even just small amounts of smoke can be damaging to wine grapes. "It does not wash away so at pressing time, you actually have some of these compounds that can influence the flavor of the wine," Wolff explains.
And not for the better. Wolff makes his own wine as well. He says buyers could cancel their contracts if even small pieces of ash are seen on the leaves, telling us: "You actually will see the little white ashes on the leaves and that by itself can be enough documentation for the winery to cancel a contract - just have the ashes alone."
Quality is everything for the Wolff family, that's why year round they're taking precautions to make sure their grapes stay safe from fires - like keeping their grass very low and examining engines on their agricultural equipment to prevent accidental backfires.
"[That's] where you have backfire of gasoline engine for example which is malfunctioning and you can have a little spark which can ignite the grass," says Wolff.
Now that the hill fire is more contained, even people in the valley about 15 miles away can breathe a lot easier.