The devastating fires that pummeled California wine country have come and gone leaving property owners, workers, and the greater wine economy still uncertain of their ultimate impact. In the short-term, however, we are painfully aware of the 43 lives lost and 9000 structures both residential and commercial that were damaged or destroyed in the greater Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties.
Making matters worse, the disaster struck during harvest season, the most critical and economically significant time of the year. And even though most of wine country was spared, most residents, workers, and property owners were impacted in some way. Power outages, road closures, and smoke-laden air forced many wineries to close or cease operations.
On a recent October visit, with fires still smoldering in some northern areas, however, it became evident that wine country wanted the world to know they were open for business. Regaining a sense of normalcy by welcoming visitors became tantamount to recovery.
Despite the backdrop of charred hillsides, singed vineyards, and hazy vistas one could sense solidarity, strength and hopefulness: this disaster was going to leave wine country more resilient than ever before.
As we toast our families and friends during this holiday season, we can help the recovery of the families and residents that tragically lost lives, homes, or property by enjoying wine from those establishments directly affected.
Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa was completely destroyed by the Tubbs Fire, considered the most destructive fire in California history. Burning simultaneously with 14 other fires to comprise what was known as the Northern California Firestorm, it also razed residential and commercial areas in Santa Rosa. Paradise Ridge is a small winery, but it’s become a local symbol of the resilience and strength of the Sonoma community. Wines are available online at www.paradiseridgewinery.com.
Gundlach Bundschu, California’s oldest continuously family-owned winery, sustained damage to its historic mansion and many employees were displaced. Originally suspected to have been completely burned down, first responders ultimately saved most of the Sonoma property. Many of their wines are only available at their winery, but their Estate Vineyard Chardonnay can be found locally for about $25. Food-friendly, focused, with minimal oakiness, this wine shows true varietal character and refreshing acidity.
In Napa County, wildfires mostly affected eastern and western hills around the valley floor, but still caused significant hardship and worker displacement. Several wineries were affected, including White Rock Vineyards, which was destroyed by the Atlas Fire, the largest of the Napa area conflagrations. With its first plantings dating back to 1870, its one of Napa’s earliest wineries and one of its most under-the-radar. Producing only Chardonnays and Cabernets from their estate vineyard, wines are traditional, classical, and elegant. View their selection at www.whiterockvineyards.com.
Also suffering a major loss to the Tubbs Fire was Storybook Mountain Vineyards in northern Napa’s Calistoga. Stores of library wines were lost, including acclaimed Zinfandels from the winery, which were first planted in 1883. Considered one of the most structured, refined, and balanced Zinfandels in California, these wines are always distinguishable amongst others on the shelves. Available at local retailers for about $40, the 2013 Mayacamas Range Zinfandel expresses dark fruit and spices on the nose and palate, refined tannins, and true varietal intensity that lingers. It’s a true compliment to heartier dishes now but can enjoyed in years to come.
A little California wine can go a long way this holiday season! Cheers to true Napa and Sonoma wine country spirit!
If you’d like more information about relief efforts please visit www.napasonomarelief.org or contact me, Erlinda A. Doherty, aka “The Wine Evangelist.”