Fire Recovery Efforts in CA Wine Country: Come, Buy and Spread the Word

Nov 17th, 2017 Jayne Pearce Connect & Create, Consume & Educate

At the annual Wine Bloggers Conference, this year held in Santa Rosa from November 9-12, the main topic of major concern were the recent North Bay wildfires most notably in Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma County. The city of Santa Rosa in Sonoma County experienced the Tubb’s fire at its northern edge as it swept through the residential areas of Coffey Park and Fountaingrove, causing devastation and loss of life. In Napa County and Sonoma County, the Nun’s fire ravaged the countryside and further casualties, as well as the separate Atlas fire in Napa and the Redwood Valley in Mendocino. It has been only six weeks since the first fire started late on Sunday, October 8, and continued for three weeks as firefighters focused initially on evacuation before being fully contained. Wine Country residents are gradually coming to terms with the catastrophe that consumed them but are determined to move forward and save their national treasure.


One of the excursions as part of the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference was a visit to a local winery for a tasting. Martin Ray Winery is located approximately ten miles north west of Santa Rosa and source their wines from Sonoma and Napa County. Although pinot is what they do most, I was very attached to the Martin Ray 2015 Synthesis with its complex palate of blackcurrant and spice.  The winemaker Lyndsey Houghton recalls the early morning of October 9 very clearly, and described it as nothing less than  apocalyptic. Fortunately, none of their staff had been endangered by the fire and neither had their vineyards as they had already harvested the majority of their wines.

“90% of grapes had been harvested already,” explained Patsy McGaughy, the Napa valley vintners communications director, who also indicated that the wineries are still optimistic about the 2017 vintage and wineries would not release a single wine if it was not up to the expected high quality. The remaining 10% that was left on the vine was cabernet and has typically tougher skin and is more resilient. Patsy was part of a two-stage conference panel where the fires were discussed. Local Photographer and previously a twenty five year resident George Rose spoke about his experience during the fire and how he could “show a story in pictures that no one can tell in words.” George explained how the moisture in the vines acted as a natural fire break to any further spread and explains why only a small percentage of the vines were destroyed. As Patsy explained, for Napa County, there were fewer than five wineries with significant damage, although approximately 50 wineries had experienced some direct damage such as melted irrigation systems. One of the wineries that was engulfed by the Atlas fire was Signorello Winery in Silverado, Napa County. Winemaker Pierre Bierbent spoke about how he desperately attempted to put out the fire singlehandedly with a hose pipe before the firefighters came on the scene. He explained how the 2016 was in storage and the 2017 was already being fermented and there are plans to make the new Signorello “nicer, bigger, better.”


Redwood Credit Union ad on Highway 101 provides financial support for displaced people of the fires.

During the first ten days of the fire when there was limited power and communication, social media was the most effective way in which residents, evacuees and journalists could reach out and get timely updates as they happened. Local journalist Sarah Stierch tweeted more than a thousand times during the fires, self reporting updated information to help and protect the local Wine Country community. As recovery efforts kick in, Sarah has helped initiate Comfort Drinks where donated wines, beers and non-alcoholic craft drinks are distributed to people who have been displaced by the fires. If you would like to donate to the recovery efforts, a volunteer-led website called North bay Fire Donations is operated by fire survivors and allows the donor to either donate money, items such as clothing or scroll through a list of establishments offering a percentage of the sale to recovery efforts.

Patsy acknowledges that “Napa valley is still open for business, but not quite business as usual.” She went on to say that “This was a human tragedy where people’s livelihoods depend on the valley.”  The whole of Wine Country is drawn together to invite anyone with a passion for wine to come to the area, and/or buy the wine and to recommend it to their friends. Please help in spreading the fine wine word.

Read the previous post: Getting fresh with Rías Baixas at Wine Bloggers Conference