Wine Industry at Center of Raging Fires

Hundreds of properties burned as flames exceed 80,000 acres

by Kate Lavin
wine california fires wildfires wineries vineyards napa sonoma mendocino lake burned
Nine wildfires are currently burning in California Grape Pricing Districts 1-4.

San Rafael, Calif.—At least two wineries were destroyed and hundreds of structures burned as nine fires ravaged more than 80,000 acres in the winegrowing regions of Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties. The four counties represent Grape Pricing Districts 1 through 4, which in 2016 crushed 504,000 tons of wine grapes worth more than $1.5 billion. Many vineyards still have fruit hanging on the vine.

The Atlas and Tubbs fires in Napa County were the largest of the blazes as of 4:15 p.m., with each of the fires measuring 25,000 acres, according to Cal Fire. The Redwood Complex, which includes the Potter Fire and Redwood Fire in Mendocino County, measured 10,000 acres, and the Nuns Fire north of Glen Ellen in Sonoma County was 5,000 acres. California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a State of Emergency for Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties this morning.

    37 Fire

    Cal Fire reported a 1,500-acre fire at Highway 37 and Lakeville Highway was 15% contained as of 2:54 p.m.

Around 2:30 p.m. today, Paradise Ridge Winery of Santa Rosa, Calif., reported: “We are heartbroken to share the news that our winery was burned down this morning.” The 6,000-case winery is located in the Russian River Valley and had 15 acres of vineyards, according to Wines Vines Analytics. Its tasting room was named one of the Top 10 Tasting Rooms by USA Today in 2016.

Photographs circulated by the Associated Press showed Signorello Estate winery located on Napa's Silverado Trail was destroyed.

Winery news
Winemaker Joe Nielsen said he was able to enter the Donelan Family Wines production area on Coffey Lane in Santa Rosa, Calif., around 10:30 a.m. today, and while the winery was filled with smoke, the structure was undamaged. A number of wineries have tasting and production facilities in the same neighborhood near the Piner Creek Trail. 

Meanwhile, dozens of houses across the street burned to the ground. “It almost looked like a path of a tornado rather than a fire, because the twists and turns didn’t make any sense,” Nielsen told Wines & Vines. Officials from Cal Fire reported that heavy winds late Sunday and early Monday played a large role in the fires, fanning the flames and causing them to spread at a remarkable pace.

Nielsen had a pick scheduled for this morning in a vineyard west of Santa Rosa, but the property was in the evacuation zone. The vineyard owner sent the picking crew home and evacuated with the hope that his vineyard and home would still be there when he returned.

Alison Crowe, director of winemaking and partner at Plata Wine Partners, said her company’s Diamond Vineyard in Carneros is situated across the street from Stornetta's Dairy, which was destroyed by the 3,000-acre Partrick Fire burning north of California State Route 12, which connects Napa and Sonoma. Everyone was evacuated from on-site farmworker housing at Diamond vineyard and moved to safety, Crowe said.

The vineyard manager from the Carneros property reported that several outbuildings near the road had been damaged, but it is not yet known whether the vineyard was affected. The site is planted to early ripening Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and already had been harvested, Crowe said, but she estimated about a third of North Coast wine grapes had not been picked.

Due to the number of homes evacuated and businesses located in the evacuation zone, “I know very few wineries that are up and operational today,” Crowe told Wines & Vines.

More than 100,000 PG&E customers were still without power this afternoon. Nielsen said his winemaking facility is without power, so chilling and heating for tanks is not possible, and automated pumpovers and punchdowns are similarly out of the question. "There is a lot of triage we'll have to run later today or tomorrow," he said. "Everyone from our team is safe."

Reports from the North Coast
The owners of Nicholson Ranch Winery in Sonoma reported around 10 p.m.: “The winery was in the path of the fire but escaped being engulfed by the flames. We have some damage to fix. The wine is secure in our cellars. We are cleaning up and hoping to have the power back on this week. Some news sources prematurely reported our demise! We will keep you posted on our progress.”

William Hill Estate in Napa, Calif., said around 3:15 p.m. today: “While there have been media reports showing damage to the William Hill sign, we have confirmed that the winery buildings are intact. William Hill sustained only minor cosmetic and landscaping damage, in addition to minimal vineyard damage.”

Treasury Wine Estates released a statement around 2:30 p.m. saying: “At this stage, there is limited damage to our infrastructures and sites, however the fires are ongoing and we still have limited access to all of our different assets. The majority of our vineyards and wineries are not presently in the direct fire zones.” TWE properties include Chateau St. Jean, Etude, Beaulieu Vineyard, Beringer Vineyards, Sterling Vineyards, Provenance Vineyards, Hewitt Hewitt and Stags’ Leap.

Representatives from Francis Ford Coppola Presents and Terlato Wine Group confirmed to Wines & Vines earlier today that their properties were undamaged.

Wineries including Raymond Vineyards, Hess Collection, Far Niente, Nickel & Nickel, Rombauer Vineyards and Monticello Vineyards reported that their wineries were undamaged but would be closed for the day. Many other wineries announced their tasting rooms would be closed but did not indicate whether their properties had sustained any damage.

‘This is what we’ll remember’
Until today, the 2017 North Coast growing season had been remarkable only for the heat spike recorded Labor Day weekend. But unlike the Napa earthquake of 2014, Crowe said, “Every single person in Napa and Sonoma is going to be affected in some way.”

“People have been evacuated and their homes are gone. This is what we’ll remember when we remember the harvest of ’17.”

For the latest fire information and a map of the fires currently burning, visit Cal Fire here.

Posted on 10.19.2017 - 18:51:19 PST
Glad to know my favorite winery is still open. Way to go Calfire!!