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The Latest on the Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino Wildfires

October 11, 2017

Fire and smoke behind Quixote winery in Napa

October 11, 2017 —The numbers are staggering: nearly two dozen separate fires, 21 dead, as many as 500 people unaccounted for, and more than 3,500 homes, businesses, and wineries destroyed or damaged according to CalFire, the state department of forestry and fire protection. More than 115,000 acres burned, vines singed and torched, more than 20,000 people evacuated, no power and cell service—and more to come, as winds pick up again today, sweeping still burning cinders onto dry grass and trees.

In videos of what’s going on you can hear the terrifying rush of wind, the crackle of flames licking hillsides, the crack of trees, and see the flying burning embers through a thick haze of smoke and ashes in the air that make familiar landmarks invisible.

And all this in some of the most beautiful wine regions on the planet, whose bottlings are enjoyed by millions of wine lovers around the world.

Those who visit often, like me, watch with sickening dread and worries for those we know, looking for news.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Napa Register, New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle struggle to keep up. Facebook, Twitter, text messages, and email alerts provide scraps of the latest information. Esther Mobley of the SF Chronicle is on the scene tweeting; you can follow her @Esther_Mobley. You feel like cheering when a winery that was reported destroyed, like Gundlach Bundschu, posts a notice that it’s actually okay. Then you look again at the latest photos of destruction.

Among the most recent emergency alerts are a list of mandatory evacuations for parts of Calistoga because of the expansion of the deadly Tubbs Fire in Sonoma, and for Mount Veeder, Geyserville, and Sonoma Mountain

In Napa, Signorello winery is in ruins, but Ray Signorello’s already bottled 2015 red and 2016 white wines are safe in a storage facility in American Canyon, according to a statement from the winery, and he plans to rebuild. The winemaking and vineyard teams fought the fire Sunday night, but had to retreat when flames did not.

White Rock winery doesn’t appear so lucky. It’s destroyed, made clear by photos of bottled wine in ashy heaps. Ditto Vin Roc Winery on Atlas Peak, where the fate of giant Stagecoach Vineyard is still unknown.

Sonoma’s beautiful Paradise Ridge winery burned down on Monday, but its estate vineyards survive, and the Byck family vows to rebuild.

Three wineries in Mendocino didn’t make it.

Napa winemaker Aaron Pott emailed that his wines, which he makes at Quixote Winery off the Silverado Trail are fine, but battled to keep his diesel tank from exploding with two fire extinguishers and a garden hose. Now he has another worry: the flames from the fire that started in the Sonoma town of Glen Ellen has climbed up the back of Mt. Veeder and are threatening his vineyards and house there. The house, he says, is probably gone.

Also under threat is Pym-Rae, the Robin Williams property on Wall Road purchased by Bordeaux’s Chateau Pontet Canet, whose vineyards I toured just last month, iconic estate Mayacamas, the Hess Collection and its museum full of great contemporary art, Lagier-Meredith, and many more.

Last night Tom Gamble of Napa’s Gamble Family Vineyards spoke to me via phone. “Yes, there have been bad fires in the past,” he said, “but this one is special. I don’t remember one that’s destroyed so much.” (Gamble owns vineyards in Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, and on Mt. Veeder, which he hasn’t yet harvested.) He points out that’s partly because back in the 1930s, and during big fires in 1964 and 1981, there were only a handful of wineries and little residential development.

“Vineyards are like firebreaks,” he sighed. “They burn slowly.” Gamble, like others, rushed to cover open tank fermenters to prevent falling ash from tainting the wine.

Every hour, it seems, brings new apocalyptic photos and information.

But wine industry people are fighting back.

They’re rounding up resources from unaffected wine regions for critical equipment like tractors, trailers, generators, as well asking vineyard workers to help in wineries now under siege ( http://bit.ly/2wNVda0).

Kimberly Charles, who represents a number of California wineries, has set up a GoFundMe page (https://www.gofundme.com/fire-relief-napa-sonoma-counties) for people to donate money for basic items for evacuees in shelters.

It looks like it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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