In Wine Country, Wildfires Take a Toll on Vintages and Tourism
■ Signorello Estate, a family-owned, ivy-draped winery along the scenic Silverado Trail in Napa, was also engulfed in flames.
■ Paradise Ridge posted photos of the charred rubble and blackened hillside where its Santa Rosa winery — just shy of its 40th anniversary — had stood.
■ Ancient Oak Cellars in Santa Rosa said in a Facebook post that the fire had destroyed a house, two redwood barns and the tasting counter on the property. But the majority of the company’s bottled wines and all of its wine barrels are safe in other locations.
The fires also destroyed several Santa Rosa establishments, including the Fountaingrove Inn, the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country hotel, Willi’s Wine Bar, the Cricklewood steakhouse and more.
The French Laundry, a restaurant in Yountville with three Michelin stars, was closed Monday night because of power failures.
Some wineries in the fire’s path escaped serious harm.
At the James Cole Winery, in Napa, the co-owner James Harder and his family evacuated Sunday night after the fire demolished the eight-foot fence surrounding the vineyard. Neighboring homes were burning to the ground, as was the nearby Signorello winery.
“We thought our property was gone,” Mr. Harder said.
But then the winds shifted. He and several friends returned to James Cole and, from 1 a.m. until 7:30 a.m., formed a “bucket brigade” to put out remaining flames, one five-gallon bucket at a time, saving all but a few small outbuildings.
On Tuesday, Mr. Harder returned through “very dangerous smoke and haze” with a rented truck to rescue grapes that had been waiting in bins and barrels to ferment. The winery still had five acres of unpicked grapes and 10 tons of the fruit in the cellar.
“The bigger, bolder reds were still hanging, because this was the week everybody was planning on pulling those grapes off,” Mr. Harder said. “We just won’t know how they are. We tasted some, and they were still pretty good, but we smell like smoke, so we don’t know what we’re really tasting.”
The wine industry in Napa County supports 46,000 jobs locally through the 700 grape growers and 475 wineries operating in the area, the vast majority of them family owned, according to the Napa Valley Vintners trade group.
Last year, California wineries drew 23.6 million visits and $7.2 billion in tourist expenditures, according to the Wine Institute. Napa and Sonoma produce only 11 percent of the state’s wine, but are “among the most well-known wine regions in the world and are closely identified with the California industry,” said Nancy Light, a vice president with the institute.
Many wineries — faced with heavy consolidation among retailers and distributors, as well as fierce competition — now raise revenue through tasting rooms and direct-to-consumer sales, according to the Wine Institute, drawing aficionados, couples on dates and bachelorette parties.
The rebuilding effort will help buoy the local economy as it recovers, but wineries that lost vineyards will have to wait three to five years to nurse the soil back to health and coax out a viable crop of grapes, said Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers.
Surviving grapes may suffer smoke taint — a smoky flavor that makes them unusable for wine, she said. Wineries damaged or destroyed by the fire could lose vast reserves of wines aging in barrels and bottles. The repercussions of the fire on wine stored in barrels and tanks is unclear.
Still, Ms. Kruse pointed to some silver linings. In most cases, the flames destroyed the brush planted between the rows of grapes, and not the resilient vines themselves. And record-breaking temperatures in September meant that fewer grapes were left exposed to the fires.
“For the most part, the vintage is in, and we should still have a viable wine community as we move forward,” Ms. Kruse said. “We all grumbled that the Labor Day heat was going to define the 2017 vintage, but it expedited the harvest, which we now look at as such a blessing.”
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