We took a 10-day trip to California wine country. We returned with many bottles, scores of photographs and two pads of notes. There is much to say and show about Sonoma and Napa – but nothing is more important than this post.
Eyewitness To Disaster
Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa, CA, George switched to journalist mode and became an eyewitness to disaster. For three straight days he shot photos and posted 78 original stories. A fire such as this was never seen before. The fire covered 15 miles in four hours.
The toll is staggering. There were more than 40 deaths and 100 injuries. In Sonoma and Napa counties, 37,000 acres were burned. Sonoma County bore the brunt, with 12,000 homes destroyed or damaged.
For a region that depends on wine production and wine tourism, the fires delivered a staggering one-two punch – personal loss and severe damage to the region’s main industry.
We visited 11 different wineries and met staff from more than a dozen more. With each conversation we learned of the personal impact: burned homes, displaced friends and family, and uncertainty about the future.
Pierre Bierbent, winemaker at Signorello Estates and also part of the panel, was at the winery when the flames caught. He grabbed a hose and with other workers tried putting out the fire until fire crews forced them to leave. The Signorello tasting room, known for its scenic views from Napa’s Atlas Peak hills, burned to the ground.
Despite days of anxiety for Pierre, there was a glimmer of sunlight. The 2017 vintage, already in tanks and barrels, is undamaged.
“We’re Here, We’re Strong, We’re Optimistic”
The real story doesn’t end with the fire’s containment. It starts there.
There’s never a good time to have a devastating wildfire, but thankfully 90 percent or more of the 2017 vintage had been harvested before the flames started. One poignant photo by George Rose shows a harvester machine working in the vineyard at night while a wildfire glows behind the ridge.
Winemakers in general are optimistic about the quality of the 2017 vintage. Grapes left on the vine were mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, a hearty, thick-skinned variety. McCaughey points out that there are many unknowns about the effects of smoke on wine. Wine lovers should have no fear of 2017 wines from Napa, Sonoma or Mendocino counties – winemakers will use rigorous and repeated lab testing to make sure there are no ill effect.
Winemakers worry that the 2017 vintage might get a bad rap by consumers. “Only the best and highest quality wine will go to market,” said McGaughey. “It’s our reputation at stake.”
California Wine Strong
What you should know:
- Tell your friends that the Napa Valley and Sonoma are OPEN FOR BUSINESS.
- Tourism is the lifeblood of the local community.The road to recovery is only possible by visitors returning to Wine Country
- Virtually every winery, restaurant, hotel, B&B, tour operator and transportation company is OPEN FOR BUSINESS.
Pierre sums it up well:
- Come to wine country.
- Enjoy a bottle of California wine.
- If you want to contribute to wildfire relief, do so.