By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor
Cabernets from northern California’s Napa Valley are known for their earthy essences—not their ashy aromas. And yet this year’s nightmare conflagrations, including the most destructive wildfire in the valley’s history, are changing the equation not just for oenophiles, but for small-scale agriculture, tourism, and farm communities.
Travelers love to swirl and sip at beautiful vineyards, but tasting rooms are just one part of California’s $40 billion wine industry. We wanted to learn how an unprecedented year of fires is affecting America’s most celebrated wine region. So we partnered with San Francisco Chronicle wine critic Esther Mobley, who reports on how climate change, already threatening to alter the taste of Napa’s prized Cabernet Sauvignons, has now fueled fires that seem to turn more destructive each season.
“Perhaps the most sobering lesson of the 2020 fires is that California can no longer expect blazes to fall within a predictable time frame,” Mobley writes. “Napa Valley was forced to confront a harsh reality: Harvest season in this world-famous wine region is now also fire season.” This is terrifyingly evident in the images of photographer Stuart Palley, who bravely raced to Napa to capture hellish scenes of vineyards ablaze (above).
What’s at stake goes beyond harvest-season tourism, which was already challenged by COVID-19 this year. “The implications ripple through every facet of life here,” Mobley reports. “The perennial presence of wildfire threatens the farmworkers [a largely Latinx immigrant population] who must choose whether to work in oppressively smoky air or not work at all. It imperils the local economies of wine country’s towns, which have grown heavily dependent on tourism—to the tune of $2.23 billion in visitor spending in a typical Napa Valley year. And it endangers the viability of the wine itself: By one estimate, complications from fire and smoke may prevent as much as 80 percent of Napa Valley’s 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon grapes being made into wine.”
Wine is the product of an interlaced agricultural economy that is dependent on environmental balance. With Napa’s Glass Fire now at a stable containment level, many vintners are sifting through “an eerie landscape of charred earth and white ash” and reevaluating their futures in a warmer, drier world. Travelers can help by recognizing the hard work and risk that goes into all of our small-scale agricultural products—from peanuts to pinot noirs. Raise a glass to the vintners, farmers, farmworkers—and, especially now, the firefighters—who coax beauty from the soil and struggle to sustain it for the future. (Below, Dario Sattui, at left, stands amid his Castello di Amarosa winery, right, which was hard hit.)
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Today in a minute
To grandmother’s house we go? Well, this Thanksgiving, it may not be by air. Airlines are reporting drastically fewer advance bookings for next month’s holiday, but anticipate a small bump, much like this year’s Labor Day or summer holidays, Travel Pulse reports. Thanksgiving is typically one of U.S. airports’ busiest times of the year.
The curse: A Canadian woman has returned stolen artifacts she had taken from Pompeii years ago, blaming them for a string of misfortune. She sent a package containing two mosaic tiles, parts of an amphora, and a piece of ceramics to a travel agent in Pompeii, the Guardian reports. “Please, take them back, they bring bad luck,” she wrote, adding that she was seeking forgiveness from God.
Coming out in another country: You travel to get away, learn new cultures, and embrace new perspectives, but for LGBTQ+ travelers, coming out abroad on a short trip could involve threats of violence or fear of discomfort. “That’s a calculus we sadly have to make,” one traveler tells Sarah Prager, writing for Nat Geo. While there are 80-some countries that promote gay-friendly travel, Prager notes that no one should be required to seek out only certain spaces to feel safe.
Overheard at Nat Geo: A newly discovered color. The people who go inside tornadoes. The explorers who search for sunken slave ships. Get ready for another season of adventure and behind-the-scenes action on our Webby Award-winning podcast, Overheard. Check out this trailer, which dropped today. Our next season begins on October 27.
Your Instagram photo of the day
Sticking to the shallow water: A kayak glides through a channel system in Sweden’s Stockholm archipelago. If you’re looking at a map to plan a kayaking trip down the road, make sure to go for the shallows, photographer (and kayaker) Martin Edstrom tells us. “In a kayak, you can easily paddle where boats can’t even come close, as most kayaks rest just a few fingers deep in the water,” he says. “Use the kayak to your advantage to experience parts of the archipelago, lake, or river where you won’t be disturbed by other boats at all.” Nearly 130,000 people have liked this image in the past month on our Travel Instagram page.
The big takeaway
Big—and problematic: It’s Georgia’s most visited travel attraction (above). Writer Sonam Yashi notes that the natural beauty of Stone Mountain, however, conflicts with the white-supremacist history of the world’s largest high relief sculpture, a nine-story high monument to three Confederate leaders who fought to keep people enslaved in America. “We are not by any means oblivious to the fact that someone got up and put that carving there, and that was something that the community approved,” says park visitor Tina Fears, who is Black—and grew up nearby. One advocacy group, Stone Mountain Action Coalition, would like the park to stop maintaining the granite carving, letting nature or erosion reclaim it. Some first-time Stone Mountain Park visitors, like Derricka McCray (pictured below), did not know about the Confederate carving before visiting.
In a few words
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The last glimpse
Conservation win in Canada: Decades ago, it took thousands of activists to stop the clear-cutting of trees within the temperate rainforest of Clayoquot Sound in British Columbia. The preserved ancient forests of Meares Island, which is unceded First Nations land, might provide a model for forest management on other parts of the West Coast after catastrophic wildfires, Clarissa Dawes writes for Nat Geo. (Pictured at left, traditional Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation canoes sit on the shore at Tofino in Clayoquot Sound; at right, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation guide Dwayne Martin shares his knowledge of the old-growth forest with a tourist on Meares Island.)
Your thoughts: Our newsletter yesterday on Indigenous Peoples’ Day prompted many responses from readers. “I agree we should be honest about our faults, as well as our benefits in this country,” writes John Couron, a member of the Cherokee tribe in Oklahoma. He is opposed to tearing down statues of Christopher Columbus, calling such efforts misguided and unhelpful. “I am tired of all the hate and blaming someone for where we are now,” he says. Another reader, Gerard Giliberti, noted that “Columbus Day was created by Italian immigrants to bring together their community that was being discriminated against”—and urged another three-day weekend for Indigenous Peoples’ Day. A third reader, Sharon McKenzie, appreciates the history being uncovered that was not in out textbooks. “I think we can be best served by ‘adding’ to our history. ... When teaching history, all peoples should be represented.” She concludes: “Our past is not our future."