Despite the Sand fire blazing through parts of Amador and El Dorado counties, most of the foothills wineries in the region remained open for business and unharmed by the flames.
Of the 40 wineries represented by the Amador Vintners Association, two were closed Saturday because of road closures and a third may not have opened because employees could not reach it because of other road closures, said Shan Trail, an association official in Plymouth.
“They did close Upton Road and Bell Road, so Story (Winery) is inaccessible and TKC is inaccessible, and it’s my understanding that Renwood is not open because people couldn’t get to it today,” Trail said.
No one answered the phone Saturday at Renwood’s tasting room, but the owners of Story and TKC said their wineries were fine and that they hoped to be able to reopen Sunday, depending upon the road closures and the fire’s behavior.
“We’re good,” said Story owner Rob Campbell. “The road’s closed coming in, so we’re just hanging out making sure there’s no hot spots.
“We’ve got Cal Fire guys using our tasting room as a lookout point.”
The fire came within about 200 yards of a vineyard late Friday at Story, which boasts a hilltop tasting room with panoramic views, and Campbell said the biggest problem Saturday afternoon was the smoke in the distance. He added that the area near him was clear Saturday.
“When I came in it looked like Riverside on a bad day,” he said.
Harold Nuffer, owner of TKC, said his winery also was fine but that Cal Fire’s road closures had kept people from accessing it Saturday.
He added that he was hoping he would be able to reopen Sunday.
“We’re hoping for the best,” Nuffer said.
Despite growing evacuation orders in some areas Saturday, it was business as usual in many areas of the two affected counties.
Trail said he was speaking from the association offices across the road from the Amador County Fair and that there was plenty of traffic in the area. He added that most of the area wineries remained open and that, barring a blowup from the fire late Saturday, they would be open Sunday.
“So far, so good,” Trail said.
Some winery owners said there was a noticeable downturn in visitors Saturday.
“I’ve counted 15 customers so far,” said Tom Dillian of Dillian Winery. “Normally, we get 100 on Saturday.
During a brief interview from the front porch of his business, Dillian watched apprehensively as the smoke plumes increased in intensity and appeared to move in his direction.
“I felt safe up until now,” he said. “Maybe we’ll have to evacuate now.”
David Helwig, who owns Helwig Winery, a 40-acre vineyard on Shenandoah Road in Amador County, said he shut down the tasting room at 2 p.m. because his employees needed to return to their homes before the fire closed more roads.
“One of my employees had some fire damage to his home, so we decided to close the tasting room,” Helwig said.
Helwig also operates another vineyard – Frenchman’s Creek in El Dorado County – which is on Dagostini Drive between the middle and south forks of the Cosumnes River, closer to the fire.
“The fire got pretty close to that, but I got out there and it’s looking OK right now,” he said, adding that despite being shorthanded Saturday he has plans to attend to.
“We’re having a wedding tonight, so we are going ahead with the wedding,” Helwig said. “As long as the winds don’t shift, it should be OK.”
Call The Bee’s Sam Stanton, (916) 321-1091.