Wildfires Threaten Wine Industry, Tourism in Napa and Sonoma Counties

The Signorello Estate, White Rock Vineyard, Paradise Ridge Winery and Frey Vineyards were destroyed by the blaze

Click here for a list of wineries affected by the North Bay fires.

Workers in Northern California's renowned wine country picked through charred debris and plotted what to do with pricey grapes after wildfires swept through lush vineyards, destroying at least two wineries and damaging many others.

The wind-driven wildfires came as Napa and Sonoma counties were finishing highly anticipated harvests of wine grapes. Monday normally would have found workers picking and processing the ripe grapes to make chardonnay and other wines.[[450267073, C]]

Instead, melted and blackened wine bottles decorated the ruined Signorello Estate winery in Napa Valley. Napa winery White Rock Vineyard was also "gone completely," staffers confirmed to the San Francisco Chronicle. 

People at Paradise Ridge Winery in Sonoma County posted photos of debris and haze, saying they were "heartbroken to share the news" that the winery had burned.

Further north, Mendocino County Tourism Commission officials confirmed that fires destroyed Frey Vineyards in Redwood Valley, a longtime producer of organic and biodynamic wines.

A maintenance worker watched and hoped for the best Monday as flames crept down a hillside by the Gundlach Bundschu Winery.

"It's right behind the main office. It's working its way down the hillside. What can I say? It's slowly working its way in," Tom Willis said.[[450323523, C]]

The Napa Valley Vintners, a trade association, said Monday that most wineries were closed because of power outages, evacuation orders and employees who couldn't get to work. The organization said it did not have firm numbers on wineries burned or how the smoke might affect this year's harvest or the industry in general. But it said most grapes had already been picked.

Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers trade group, told the Santa Rose Press Democrat about 90 percent of Sonoma County crop was already harvested. But, late season grapes such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot represent the remaining crop, said Alison Crowe, director of winemaking at Playa Wine Partners in Napa. It is not clear what the extent of the damage is and how it may affect prices for those wines. 

About 12 percent of grapes grown in California are in Sonoma, Napa and surrounding counties, said Anita Oberholster, a cooperative extension specialist in enology at the University of California, Davis. But they are the highest value grapes, leading to the highest value wines, she said.[[450084303, C]]

It's hard to predict correctly, but she said chances are good this year's crop won't carry much "smoke taint," a burnt characteristic infused in wine that has been exposed to smoke and ash.

"Even if wines now were heavily affected by smoke, it doesn't carry over to the next season, only in the fruit itself," she said.

Gloria Ferrer, Ravenswood and Kenwood were among well-known wineries closed for the day because of the fires, according to social media posts. Chateau Montelena Winery, which helped put California on the global wine map when it won a French wine-tasting competition in 1976, escaped damage.

Wineries that escaped damage grappled with the lack of power, which they need to process the grapes.

"Some of our growers did pick for us last night. So we had to unload the fruit into our cold barrel room and wait until tomorrow to process it," said Alisa Jacobson, vice president of winemaking at Joel Gott Wines.

"I think we'll be OK, but it's not an ideal situation. But more importantly, all our employees seem to be doing OK," she said.

She said she was stunned by the speed of the fires, falling asleep around 10 p.m. Sunday only to wake during the night to the smell of smoke. By 3 a.m. people were being evacuated.[[450153703, C]]

Lise Asimont, director of grower relations for the Family Coppola wineries, was among the people being urged to leave her Santa Rosa home. She said explosions that made her think of war woke her around 2 a.m. She opened the front door to a sky snowing ash.

Authorities told her family to prepare to flee, but Asimont was also worried about her grapes, four truckloads of cabernet sauvignon machine-picked in Lodi on Sunday with no way of getting to Coppola facilities Monday because of a closed highway.

She called a winemaker with LangeTwins winery and vineyards, who had a tank available to crush the grapes and was happy to be able to help. In turn, she passed on the favor to another winery.

"There's a lot of people helping each other, which is amazing," she said.

Here is a list of wineries damaged in the wine country fires:

  • Signorello Estate - Destroyed
    The Napa County winery has been burned down. 
  • White Rock Vineyard - Damaged
    One of the oldest wineries in Napa County is likely to have suffered significant damage. 
  • Paradise Ridge Winery - Destroyed
    The Sonoma County winery has been burned down. 
  • Frey Vineyards Winery - Destroyed
    The Mendocino County winery has been burned down. 
  • William Hill - Damaged
    The Napa County winery sustained minor cosmetic damage, but buildings are still intact, according to the SF Gate. 
  • Stags' Leap Winery - Damaged
    The Napa County winery showed fire damage in many photos, but it is still unknown how much, according to the SF Gate. 
  • Nicholson Ranch - Damaged
    The Sonoma County winery was in the path of fire but escaped from being engulfed by flames. The winery only suffered minor damage. 
  • Chateau St. Jean - Damaged
    The Sonoma County winery sustained limited damage to the infrastructures. 
  • Mayo Family Wineries - Damaged
    The Sonoma County winery sustained minor damage, but the winery has been spared so far, according to the SF Gate. 
  • Oster Wine Cellars - Destroyed 
    The Mendocino County winery has been burned down, according to the Mercury News.
  • Gundlach Bundschu Winery - Damaged
    The Sonoma County winery sustained some damage, but the extent is still unknown, according to the SF Gate. 
Copyright AP - Associated Press
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