Just as the 2017 grape harvest was winding down in Northern California, many winemakers found themselves fleeing their vineyards and cellars as wind-driven wildfires tore through Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties.
Joining thousands of others forced to vacate their homes and businesses Sunday night and Monday morning, vintners and growers have been retreating to evacuation centers and friends’ houses as efforts to contain the fires continue.
Representatives of law-enforcement agencies, vintners associations and wineries say they haven’t yet begun to tally the overall loss.
“At this time, we are still assessing the specific damage to Sonoma County vineyards as well as to our communities and neighbors,” said Karissa Kruse, president of the trade group Sonoma County Winegrowers, in a prepared statement.
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Nonetheless, various news agencies and social-media posts have reported or speculated on damage and destruction to several north-state wineries.
Vineyards and wineries along the Silverado Trail on the east side of Napa Valley were especially jeopardized, with news outlets reporting that Signorello Vineyards has been destroyed and that neighboring Stags’ Leap Winery, William Hill, Chimney Rock and Darioush had been damaged or were threatened.
Photos of a partially burned sign for William Hill winery were published by several news outlets Monday. Lon Gallagher, a spokesperson for E.&J. Gallo, which owns William Hill, said the winery “sustained only minor cosmetic and landscaping damage, in addition to minimal vineyard damage.”
A spokesman for Treasury Wine Estates, whose brands include Stags’ Leap, Beringer, Acacia and Sterling in Napa Valley and Chateau St. Jean in Sonoma County, reported “limited damage to our infrastructures and sites. However, the fires are ongoing, and we still have limited access to all of our different assets.”
Flames, however, reportedly consumed other destinations frequented by wine tourists, including Willi’s Wine Bar, the Fountaingrove Inn and the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country hotel in Santa Rosa.
Farther north, representatives of the Mendocino County Tourism Commission confirmed that fire destroyed Frey Vineyards in Redwood Valley, a longtime producer of organic and biodynamic wines.
In addition to the loss of structures and plants from fires, growers and winemakers worry about wines developing “smoke taint” after grapes have been exposed to smoke and ash. But around two-thirds of the fruit already has been harvested, winemakers said, and most of the rest likely will be picked before it is marred.
“I’m not concerned about smoke taint yet, says Napa winemaker Alison Crowe, author of “The Winemaker’s Answer Book.” “You need some serious time and smoke density to make that stick.”