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Napa, Sonoma wineries damaged in Glass Fire plan path forward

More fire danger ahead

Cal Fire officials say they’re monitoring the forecast for extreme fire weather that could reach the region later in the week, leading PG&E to warn of an elevated risk for power shut-offs to reduce the risk of the utility’s equipment sparking wildfires.

Early forecasts from PG&E experts show the potential for Diablo winds to gust as high as 50 mph in the North Bay mountains and the Northern Sierra Nevada starting Wednesday evening.

—The Press Democrat

About a month ago, V. Sattui Winery president Tom Davies finally closed out the insurance claim from the 2017 wildfires that consumed the property’s 525-acre Hibbard Ranch in the Napa Valley.

“Less than a month later, I get a call from the same insurance adjusters saying, ‘Well, I didn't think we'd be talking quite this soon,’’ Davies said. “Little did I know that we would go through another devastating fire.”

The Glass Fire mostly spared V. Sattui, but not its sister winery, Castello di Amorosa, which lost its farmhouse building. Inside that building was a production facility that housed wine for both operations.

“We had probably close to 10,000 gallons of wine in the building that burned, so I know we had some losses, but we have yet to even determine how much because we still haven't been able to get inside the building,” Davies said, noting tiles are still hanging down from the ceiling. “We had just finished fermentation and racked a bunch of wines over to those tanks and they were just about ready to get barreled down into the cellars.”

All of the barreled wine is safe in the cellar and the famed castle at Castello di Amorosa, went unharmed in the fire.

“We’re so lucky it was just that one building,” Davies said.

As of Monday morning, the Glass Fire had consumed 67,484 acres and was 95% contained, damaging or destroying nearly 30 Napa wineries and vineyards, as well as a few in Sonoma County.

Early assessments at Westwood Estate Wines’ 40-acre vineyard in eastern Santa Rosa showed damage to some of its vines, Andrew Tomassini, estate director, told Sonoma Magazine, a sister publication of the Business Journal. The property’s Annadel Gap Vineyard had harvested approximately 20% of its grapes prior to the fire.

At Ledson Winery, on Highway 12 between Santa Rosa and Kenwood, the Glass Fire came close enough to bring a four-man crew and a water truck to Steve Ledson’s property the night of Sept. 27, he told The Press Democrat.

“We were up late last night picking and we heard the fire was coming closer,” Ledson said. “I brought the water truck, filled it and sure enough, everything was in flames. Without this (the truck) we would have been screwed.”

The Glass Fire’s impact on Napa was more profound. As of Oct. 7, the following wineries and vineyards were widely reported to have suffered the most damage:

  • Behrens Family Winery
  • Burgess Cellars
  • Dutch Henry Winery
  • Eeden Vineyards
  • Fairwinds Estate Winery
  • Flying Lady Winery & Estate
  • Hourglass Winery
  • Ritchie Creek Vineyard
  • Sherwin Family Vineyards
  • Spring Mountain Vineyards
  • Sterling Vineyards
  • Tofanelli Vineyards
  • Tuck Beckstoffer Vineyards
  • Newton Vineyard

A week after the fire, Jean-Baptiste Rivail, general manager of Newton Vineyard in St. Helena, said the path forward has begun.

“We are dedicating all our efforts in two directions,” Rivail said on Oct. 8. “One, our staff first, providing to their needs and finding solutions to keep them at work. And two, moving forward on all farming, winemaking and administrative tasks that help us prepare our future Newton — as early as for next harvest.”

A survey of the property also bore some good news.

“We have the good fortune to have vineyards not affected by the fire, so we have to organize where will be the home for these fruits, and also start planning our replanting effort,” Rivail said. “We are working full steam ahead with our insurance partners and county officials to clean and plan the rebuilding and redevelopment — all our energy is focused on preparing our future and moving onward and upward. We are determined to rebuild!”

At Sterling Vineyards, a spokeswoman on Oct. 7 told the Business Journal that the owners are continuing to assess damage to the winery and expect to have updates soon.

Treasury Wine Estates, which owns the property, issued a statement on Oct. 1 reporting that not all was lost.

“There has been much speculation and reports on the damage to our winery but, thankfully, we can confirm that our beautiful Sterling Vineyards is still standing and our beloved tram is still intact,” said Atina Alkhas, corporate communications manager, Americas, Treasury Wine Estates.

On the hillsides of Howell Mountain in Deer Park, Burgess Cellars’ winery was confirmed on Sept. 29 to have fallen victim to the Glass Fire, with initial reports showing minimal damage to the vineyards themselves. A spokeswoman said in an Oct. 5 email that “the team is still in the process of evaluating everything.”

The Lawrence Family — headed by Gaylon Lawrence Jr. — and Heitz Cellar CEO Carlton McCoy, Jr. had acquired Burgess Cellars on Sept. 11, just three weeks before the fire.

Hourglass Winery’s vineyard in St. Helena was spared from the fire, but its Calistoga vineyard was not.

“Our Blueline Estate was unfortunately in nature’s furious path,” the winery’s team stated in a Sept. 28 Facebook post, which continued: “Your well wishes are all so greatly appreciated. It is this energy that inspires us to see the beauty in whatever challenges lay ahead.”

Behrens Family Winery lost its winery and two other structures in the fire. Its new tasting room and crush pad/tank barn survived.

The family on Oct. 1 posted a Facebook message that read, in part: “These are just buildings and they are gone, but our winery is the people. … We are still here and have wonderful wines that remain safe in our warehouse ready for you whenever you want.” The family added it will move forward.

“Napa Valley has seen adversity and has been tried in unimaginable ways throughout our 150-year winegrowing history,” said Teresa Wall, senior director of marketing communications, Napa Valley Vintners. “Our community is already showing resilience by supporting one another, and we know that Napa Valley will overcome these challenges as we have in the past.”

Davies also spoke about how heartened he’s been feeling about the Napa community coming together during the Glass Fire. But he noted other worries continue.

“The industry has been struggling, certainly with COVID,” he said. “And both of our wineries are 100% direct to consumer. So we're entirely dependent upon people coming through our front door.”

Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. She previously worked for a Gannett daily newspaper in New Jersey and NJBIZ, the state’s business journal. Cheryl has freelanced for business journals in Sacramento, Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge. Reach her at cheryl.sarfaty@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4259.

More fire danger ahead

Cal Fire officials say they’re monitoring the forecast for extreme fire weather that could reach the region later in the week, leading PG&E to warn of an elevated risk for power shut-offs to reduce the risk of the utility’s equipment sparking wildfires.

Early forecasts from PG&E experts show the potential for Diablo winds to gust as high as 50 mph in the North Bay mountains and the Northern Sierra Nevada starting Wednesday evening.

—The Press Democrat

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