Read more about the recovery from the October 2017 wildfires: nbbj.news/recovery

Survivability, having enough insurance coverage, preservation of vital records, the location of stored cases and other aspects of day-to-day operations — these are things you think about if you are rebuilding after the devastating 2017 wildfires.

Owners of Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa and Signorello Estate Winery in Napa recently broke ground on their wineries as well as their new beginnings.

For siblings Sonia Byck-Barwick and Rene Byck, co-owners of Paradise Ridge Winery off Fountaingrove Parkway (prwinery.com), a major consideration was whether or not to rebuild. Their father and founder Walter Byck decided to move forward despite insurance challenges and the extent of fire damage.

“It could have been worse,” said Byck-Barwick. “All of our renters made it safely off the property and most of our vines and art survived. Our facility manager called to say the road was blocked. The next day an employee’s husband went up the hill to see if anything was still there. We lost our hospitality building that served as an event center and tasting room, as well as three homes and four other structures on the property. Our Sonoma Valley Tasting Room and Sensory Garden in Kenwood were untouched, but the fire did come within 100 meters.”

The cost of rebuilding the 8,600-square-foot, two-story hospitality center is estimated to be $5.3 million. With everything else that must be replaced, the total cost could be between $13 million and $15 million.

This 155-acre Russian River Valley Estate was purchased by Walter Byck and Marijke Byck-Hoenselaars 40 years ago. In 1991 the first wine was produced and three years later the hospitality center opened. In 2019 the center would have celebrated its 25th anniversary.

“The entire 2017 vintage and the Rockpile Reds from 2016 were lost that would have enabled us to produce 6,500 cases," Rene Byck said. "With fruit left on the vines, our harvest was limited to 10 tons, enough for 400 cases. We had to buy bulk juice, bought back our pinot grapes from the Fritz Winery and purchased cabernet sauvignon. We also made a rosé from grenache grapes so we could have wine to sell.

“The biggest save for us was our estate vineyards, most of our trees and the five-acre Marijke’s Grove sculpture garden that includes the two-story-high 'Love' artwork that survived the fire and became a symbol of hope and strength. While we did have some vine damage, this year’s harvest was bigger than expected.”

He said ongoing tours and tasting events were launched in June, but wine club membership numbers declined in summer, due in part to people not being able to enjoy wine on the terrace patio overlooking the valley.


What will be done differently in the future? Being adequately insured tops the list. Separate insurance to cover wine losses is also important, along with business interruption insurance to keep a winery going for a year or two during recovery.

New building codes have been put in place since last October. Understanding rules and regulations associated with acquiring building permits is vital, since differences exist in regulations for rebuilding versus building new structures.

A fire hydrant is located on the property by the events building. The plan calls for buying enough hose to reach rebuilt structures. Developing an evacuation plan is also a must, along with a communications backup system, since cell phone coverage was spotty during the emergency. Having more than one way to enter and leave a property is advised should a single access road be blocked.

Read more about the recovery from the October 2017 wildfires: nbbj.news/recovery

"You have to be smart about where you store your wine," Rene Byck said. "Moving case goods off site, and stockpiling them in different locations, is also a good strategy to reduce losses.”

Computers containing important data were destroyed and not backed up in the cloud. Thankfully, the bookkeeper for the winery kept several duplicate records and files at home.

“When trying to find receipts or evidence showing everything that we wanted to claim, we did not have photos, but our promotional marketing videos showed a majority of the items.”

TLCD Architecture is designing the new structure using the same footprint as the original. Only the former concrete foundation and retaining walls survived. They will become part of the new building.

Don Tomasi, principal with TLCD, said, “In working with the owners we felt the public had strong ties to the old building. The new design will be recognizable in keeping with its 25-year history as one of Sonoma County’s premier winery venues.”

The design includes important changes that comply with Wildland-Urban Interface guidelines. Noncombustible Oko-skin panel siding has been added to the north and south elevations to accent gable end walls.

Other changes include a newly designed Sunset Terrace and renovation of the Poetry Terrace, where weddings are held, along with replacement of trees and plants destroyed. The re-envisioned Sunset Terrace, previously a deck, will be expanded into a concrete patio elevated to the level of the building entry.

The concrete tile roof has been replaced with a standing seam metal roof, one of several measures to provide the building with a more regionally appropriate, agricultural feel. Two roof monitors have been added and will bring natural light into the building. The expanded decks and terraces will highlight the panoramic views of vineyards and the Russian River Valley.

Wright Contracting was commissioned to rebuild the hospitality center. “We are committed to completing the new winery event center in time to have people celebrating weddings and admiring the views by the fall of 2019,” said Bryan Wright, vice president of Wright Contracting and project manager.

He said fire-resistant materials include fiber cement siding and steel columns surrounded by stone gating cages. Instead of wood, tile is used on patio surfaces. Existing retaining walls are being resurfaced with shotcrete.


When the Atlas Fire reduced Signorello Estate’s main winery building to ruins over a year ago, Ray Signorello Jr. vowed to rebuild. He is keeping this promise and also planning to expand operations while taking additional steps to safeguard facilities and workers.

Signorello was away on business Sunday night, Oct. 8, 2017. His wife called him at 9:50 p.m. saying that a massive fire had lit up the sky. At first he thought, “It’s no big deal; don’t overreact. We’ve experienced fires before.” As the fire came closer, she was able to get out in time.

He said while there was little advance warning, people were still awake and able to drive away. He observed that last October’s blaze was fueled by what he described as category 5 hurricane winds, or a tornado of fire, creating a cataclysm that had seldom been seen before in the region.

In 2005, he lost 15,000 cases in the Mare Island arson fire after storing all of his wine in one warehouse, taking him out of the market for two years. Now, 13 years later, history was repeating itself. The silver lining was that no one was hurt and Signorello is still making wine.

A winemaker friend was asked to drive from St. Helena down to 4500 Silverado Trail to see if his property had been impacted. His friend reported the fire had reached the winery and that there was nothing left of the hospitality center. This building also housed offices, a wine lab and a family residence upstairs.

“I flew back the following Wednesday but found roads were barricaded and everyone had been evacuated," Signorello said. "I joined reporters who were able to enter the fire zone. It was gratifying to see that the crush pad and its stainless steel tanks had survived intact along with our barrel cellar and vines. Personally, I viewed this tragedy as an opportunity to do something new and exciting.”

Reflecting on the experience, Signorello said insurance was enough to cover the loss of the main structure, but the rebuilding plan also calls for a larger fermentation facility, wine caves offering more and better capabilities.

“It’s great having an agent at a brokerage like ISU Sander Jacobs Cassayre Insurance Services of Napa that made sure we had enough coverage back in 2005 as well as now," Signorello said.

The winery hired a licensed public insurance adjuster, The Greenspan Company/Adjusters International, to help expedite and maximize claim management during the settlement process.

Having invoices and receipts supporting the initial and current value of destroyed artwork was a key issue, but fortunately the gallery where art was purchased was able to provide records and replacement estimates.

The winery has kept almost all of its team employed. As an interim step toward returning to normalcy, a modular building was brought in to serve as a temporary hospitality center on July 13.

Signorello Estate (signorelloestate.com) produces about 6,000 cases of old-vine cabernet sauvignon wine annually and entertains hundreds of visitors by appointment throughout the year.

Tony Simmons, president and partner at Nordby Construction, said his firm is ready to start rebuilding at Signorello Estate as soon as a grading and building permit is obtained.

“We anticipate a 12- to 13-month schedule for the initial shell of the new building but up to two years for all three construction phases," Simmons said. "These phases include the hospitality center shell, a new fermentation facility, plus the wine cave and finish work on the hospitality center and second-floor residence. Our goal is to have all of this completed prior to the 2020 crush.”

Principal Tom Taylor and his staff with Taylor Lombardo Architects of San Francisco created the new hospitality center’s contemporary design using a variety of fire resistant materials.

“We are replacing the former hospitality center’s 20th century traditional look with a fresh, open 21st century modern style using concrete, steel, aluminum-frame windows, etc. Building codes have change. As a fire precaution, no longer are crawl spaces and attics vented and additional sprinklers are being placed in the wood overhanging roof eaves for extra protection along with a layer of fire proofing material,” Taylor said.

According to Taylor, the first time he met Ray the site was still smoking, indicating how motivated Signorello was to rebuild as soon as possible.

Features include hardscapes all around the structure as well as decomposed granite to establish defensible open space. Drought-resistant landscaping will replace trees and bushes. Walls and floors are concrete with attractive color-stamping designs on walking surfaces. A durable second floor metal deck will be part of the design, along with stucco siding with ceramic panels. The use of wood will be restricted to overhangs and a few decorative highlights.

There is a fire hydrant in the parking area and a second is proposed near the fermentation building. The property has two access roads to enable alternative escape routes.

The energy-efficient, all-electric building will utilize a heat pump for HVAC services. A unique “smart” heat detecting and monitoring system with a centralized warning annunciator panel will be installed. This device serves as a fire alarm that would automatically trigger sprinklers and simultaneously notify 911 of a fire, while also providing the precise location of a fire within the structure. This system also controls lights, audio-visual units and has an overlay that monitors wine-storage tanks.

“Creative land use can aid in fire prevention. Barrel storage will be underground," Taylor said. "The site’s slope is excellent for building wine caves and the fermentation building will be constructed into the hillside, also reducing visibility from the Silverado Trail. Vineyard sprinklers establish a natural barrier to help check a forest or grass fire.

“A key objective for us is designing the hospitality center to better enable high customer contact in a beautiful place where visitors can spend quality time, enjoy personal experiences and become life-long customers."