More than a dozen wildfires have attacked Northern California over the past week, killing at least 40 and destroying thousands of homes and businesses, including some of the country's most beloved wineries. Napa's Signorello Estate and White Rock Vineyards, established in 1870, are among a long list of area vineyards that have reportedly experienced major damage.
While there’s no replacing what was lost, emergency service workers and the devastated community are fighting back. On Sunday, the high winds started to slow down, allowing firefighters to gain ground and contain some of the fires. Of the tens of thousands of people who had to evacuate, the Associated Press reports some have begun to return to their homes, and local business owners and employees say hope is on the horizon.
“Only the building was lost,” Pierre Birebent, a winemaker from Signorello Estate told Travel + Leisure. “We’re thankful that the vineyards are still intact and all of the wine is remained in the tanks, we just have to assess and make sure the quality is still good.”
Caroline Shaw, president of the Sonoma County Vintners, explained that most of the harvest was done earlier in the year. “On a positive note, many of the grapes had been harvested in Northern California prior to the fire,” she said. “Because of this we believe the 2017 harvest will showcase the exceptional quality and style Sonoma County wines are known for. This is a strong and resilient community. We have a good natured competitiveness out in the marketplace and without question we will work together to help our neighbors rebuild.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Cates, owner of Segassia Vineyard, expects everything to be destroyed — but according to a spokesperson, the damage isn’t getting them down: "They plan to take the grapes from wineries that can no longer be used and turn them into Wine RayZyns, a new superfood fruit snack. Part of product sales for the month of October will go towards the Napa fire relief efforts."
The owners of Sonoma County’s Ancient Oak Cellars still haven’t been able to return to their vineyard. The family winery's house and barns were destroyed, according to owner Melissa Moholt-Siebert, but all may not be lost. "We believe our vineyards have been spared, but we haven’t been allowed back on the property yet, though we have seen it from a distance and in aerial photography,” she said.
Though there is no shortage of reasons to stop and mourn, fires have long been a sad reality for the area, and members of the community are ready with plans to rebuild. “We are a 160-year-old, family-owned business. This isn’t the first disaster or obstacle that we’ve faced — we’re able to tap into a history of overcoming challenges that our family laid out before us,” Katie Bundschu, vice president of Gundlach Bundschu Winery, told T+L. “In terms of rebuilding and recovery, we’re lucky to have our team at our side to help us get back to a place where we can host our customers on our property — whether at a tasting or at a concert in our barn — as well as continue to send our wine across the country. Our employees and team are our family, and we all look forward to getting both our property and our community to where it needs to be. We’re persevering, and we are also hopeful.”
At the same time, the Mayo Family Winery pointed out that business owners could face a challenge in getting people to come back out once the fire subsides. “My concern is October is our best month for visitors, so we need to get a campaign to try to get people here in November, December, and January,” owner Jeffrey Mayo said. “The fires are out and so is the welcome mat, I realize that will be tough though.”
Given the optimism and willingness of these local businesses to work together, it's clear that however long it takes, Northern California will make a comeback.