Padilla Introduces Legislation to Protect U.S. Winegrape Growing Regions Against Wildfire Smoke Damage

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) introduced two pieces of legislation to better protect winegrape growers in California, Washington, and Oregon, the top three states for wine production in the U.S., against wildfire smoke damage. The Smoke Exposure Research Act, co-led by Senator Merkley (D-Ore.), and the Crop Insurance for Wine Grapes Act, co-led by Senator Murray (D-Wash.), would strengthen research and risk management efforts to better understand the impacts of wildfire smoke on vines and wineries from prolonged smoke exposure by investing in comprehensive research and fair insurance products for growers. Representative Mike Thompson (D-Calif.-04) is leading both bills in the House, and Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.-04) is a co-lead of the Crop Insurance for Wine Grapes Act.

Smoke from wildfires can damage winegrapes through prolonged exposure, which can be absorbed through thin grape skins and create an ashy taste known as “smoke taint,” potentially compromising the health, quality, and value of wine produced. The impact has been particularly acute for California’s 4,800 wineries and 5,900 winegrape growers, who have seen significant property loss, loss of tourism, and loss of production due to smoke-exposed grapes. The 2020 wildfires alone are estimated to have cost wineries and winegrape growers $3.7 billion both from immediate fire-caused losses as well as losses in future sales due to unharvested grapes exposed to wildfire smoke.

“As climate change intensifies and wildfires become more frequent and extreme, we need to protect winegrape growers and consumers against the damage caused by prolonged smoke exposure,” said Senator Padilla. “Winegrape growing regions are critical to our economy, especially in California. Growers, vintners, and consumers alike have a stake in the sustainability of winegrowing communities—these bills will help growers make informed decisions about harvesting and selling their crops.”

“Oregon’s wine industry is world-renowned, and we need to make sure we’re doing all we can to protect winemakers and their crops so they can continue to share their products far and wide,” said Senator Merkley. “The unprecedented wildfire seasons of recent years have blanketed much of Oregon with dense, hazardous smoke, which has significantly impacted our wine grape harvests, and these events are expected to only become longer and more frequent with continued climate chaos. We need to tackle wildfire smoke threats every way we can and to continue investing in research on wildfire smoke and its impact on grapes and quality wine production – an essential economy in Oregon and throughout the West.”

“Washington state is the second-largest wine producing state in the country, creating thousands of jobs and fueling tourism across the state,” said Senator Murray. “Washington is also seeing an alarming increase in wildfires year after year, which creates a serious smoke exposure problem for winegrape growers across the West Coast. Vineyards in Washington state and all the way down to California need a crop insurance policy for smoke-exposed winegrapes, rather than being forced to rely on ad-hoc disaster assistance from year to year — and that’s what this legislation will provide. I’m proud that research at Washington State University has played a leading role in studying the impacts of smoke exposure, and this bill takes a critical and needed step to protect our state’s vital wine industry.”

“Winegrapes are essential to economies across our country, and states like California, Oregon, and Washington have been disproportionately exposed to wildfires leading to smoke exposure impacting our winegrapes,” said Rep. Thompson. “Researching the impact that smoke has on our winegrapes and other crops is essential in advancing solutions that will protect these key economic drivers from future natural disasters. Proud to work with Rep. Newhouse and Sen. Padilla to introduce legislation that strengthens crop insurance for winegrowers and helps fully capture the risks associated with growing in these smoke- and wildfire-prone states.” 

“These important pieces of legislation highlight the pressing need for research and crop insurance considerations in response to the devastating impacts of wildfires on California winegrape growers. With over 615,000 acres of vineyards spanning the golden state, the wine industry’s economic influence extends nationwide, generating a substantial $170.5 billion annually. I’m grateful for Senator Padilla’s leadership in acknowledging the widespread consequences of wildfires and taking steps to safeguard this economically vital industry,” said Natalie Collins, President of the California Association of Winegrape Growers.

Smoke Exposure Research Act

Federal research on smoke exposure has never been formally authorized—despite the fact that increasingly frequent and catastrophic wildfires threaten the long-term sustainability of important winegrowing regions and the vintners, vineyards, wineries, and the communities they serve. The Smoke Exposure Research Act of 2023 would provide more certainty by authorizing $32.5 million over five years to conduct research in coordination with University of California Davis, Oregon State University, and Washington State University on the effects of smoke exposure on viticulture and enology operations and practices.

Specifically, the Smoke Exposure Research Act directs the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to conduct research to: 

  • Identify the compounds responsible for smoke taint;
  • Establish standard methodologies for sampling and testing smoke-exposed wine grapes and smoke-affected wines, including fast and inexpensive screening methods;
  • Establish a reliable database of background levels of smoke taint compounds that occur naturally in wine grapes; 
  • Develop risk assessment tools or mitigation methods to reduce or eliminate smoke taint.

A one-pager of the bill is available here.

Full text of the bill is available here.

Crop Insurance for Wine Grapes

Crop insurance is a critical risk management tool for California winegrape growers. Currently, crop insurance products do not allow growers to receive indemnity payments unless they leave their grapes on the vine, forcing growers to make uninformed decisions about using perfectly good grapes or losing potential profits. Building on the underlying research that would be provided by the Smoke Exposure Research Act, the Crop Insurance for Wine Grapes Act would expand and improve crop insurance for wine grapes impacted by smoke. The bill directs the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to research and develop a crop insurance policy to insure wine grapes against losses due to wildfire smoke exposure.

A one-pager of the bill is available here.

Full text of the bill is available here.

Senator Padilla previously helped secure $10 billion for the Wildfire Hurricane Indemnity Program (now referred to as the “Emergency Relief Program”) to help producers impacted by wildfires in 2020 and 2021. In 2022, he secured $3.7 million in federal funding for three projects across Wine Country in the bipartisan FY 2023 appropriations package. Padilla also pushed to end wine tariffs in response to a series of escalating tariffs put in place by the Trump administration beginning in 2018, which led China to impose a 54 percent tariff on American wine. Recently, Padilla also highlighted the indirect costs of climate change in the agricultural industry at last week’s Budget hearing on “Cultivating Stewardship: Examining the Changing Agricultural Landscape.”


Related Issues
This site is registered on as a development site.