| The Record
Fires: Red flag warning issued for nearly all of Northern California
National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for nearly all of Northern California after two new fires wreak burning havoc.
The Glass Fire has damaged or destroyed an untold number of Napa Valley, California, wineries and resort properties that embody the laid-back, upscale lifestyle that draws tourists and connoisseurs from around the world.
It’s too early to say how much the damage might be felt on wine lists and store shelves, but the harvest is ongoing in areas not under evacuation. And while direct losses and smoke damage may cut into the 2020 vintage, industry experts note there is plenty of wine not affected by the fires.
“It continues to be an evolving situation,” said Teresa Wall, senior director of communications for Napa Vintners, a regional trade group with 500 member wineries. “It’s too soon to assess the impact on the wine industry. Right now our concern is with the health and well-being of the community.”
Chateau Boswell has been destroyed, according to multiple news reports, and Hunnicutt Wine Co. has sustained damage. Video posted on social media showed heavy damage at Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga. To the east side of the valley near the origin of the Glass Fire in the Mayacamas Mountains, Spring Mountain was evacuated, and Newton Vineyard reportedly was damaged.
Two of Napa’s most prestigious resorts, Meadowood and Calistoga Ranch to the east of St. Helena, have reportedly been damaged. On Tuesday, the town of Calistoga was under mandatory evacuation orders.
Relief for some Napa winery owners
Firefighting efforts have kept many winery owners away from their property to assess damage. The Glass Fire was at zero percent containment Tuesday and had consumed some 43,000 acres and threatened nearly 150 wineries.
The San Francisco Chronicle, which has kept a running list, counted a dozen damaged or destroyed wineries as of Tuesday afternoon.
Ehren Jordan, owner and winemaker at Failla Winery on the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley, is not on that list.
He’s relieved — and dealing with survivor’s guilt.
Jordan finished harvesting the 2020 vintage prior to the Glass Fire and his wines are fermenting safely in his 16,000 square feet of caves. Some of his surrounding property was damaged, but the winery was not damaged.
There are four wineries in close proximity to Failla, including Chateau Boswell just 900 feet away and Hunnicutt immediately to the south.
“My heart goes out to them,” Jordan said. “Fires are strange things. They move in weird ways. It could have gone the other way. I’m super clear on that.”
Jordan was allowed to return to refuel his generators to power refrigeration units. The electrical infrastructure has been severely damaged near him, and he likely will need to rely on generators for several weeks.
Napa Valley resorts also impacted
It’s not just the wineries. As California’s most exclusive wine region, the area has attracted luxury amenities that are widely known and beloved.
Jean-Baptiste Jacquot and wife Brittany run JBJ Pictures, a luxury wedding photo and video company that has shot numerous weddings at Meadowood and Calistoga Ranch.
“We are heartbroken along with the rest of the wedding and hospitality professionals in Napa Valley,” Jacquot told USA TODAY. “This is where we used to document one of the best days of our couples’ lives, where they would gather with their family and friends to celebrate love.”
Even those spared describe the losses as devastating.
Flames crept within a half-mile of Turley Wine Cellars in St. Helena, where Tegan Passalacqua is the winemaker. He said the fire hopped onto the bottom of owner Larry Turley’s property down by the Napa River and was beaten back by fire crews. The eastern hillside across from Turley burned.
“We’re right across from Glass Mountain and that’s where the fire started, and then just west of the winery is Spring Mountain and it has been evacuated,” Passalacqua said. “There are embers flying around. That’s what flew from the Glass Fire over on to the bottom of our property Sunday. Luckily, there were nine fire trucks that came over and got that one out because it started to burn up the creek and if it went up the creek, it would have taken off quickly.”
‘It is pretty devastating’
John Skrupny, owner and winemaker of Lang & Reed Napa Valley in St. Helena, said he and his wife, Tracy, were settling in for dinner Sunday night at their home at the base of Spring Mountain when they received a mandatory evacuation order. They stayed at their son and daughter-in-law’s home in Napa and returned to find their property intact.
“It is pretty devastating,” John Skrupny said. “We’ve been through this drill before, most recently in 2017, and three weeks ago we had the Hennessey Fire that moved into the Pope Valley. It was really (evident) from the beginning that it was pretty serious.”
In Napa proper, about 30 miles south of the fire, it’s high season for tourists. Shops and businesses have stayed open for locals and tourists with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic. Napa County was one of the first counties in the state allowed to reopen businesses under the coronavirus recovery plan.
Jason Holman, owner and winemaker for Holman Cellars, has a wine tasting room in downtown Napa, Rebel Vintners, where his Uncharted Wines and wines from Leaf & Vine and Cadoe Family Wines are poured. Business is slow.
“If you want to talk broad stroke numbers, I would say we’re probably down in sales 60% to 70% from last year,” Holman said.
Fires in 2017 crept within one yard of his home in Coombsville. Holman now lives in downtown Napa, where the skies have been moderately clear.
At Failla Winery, Jordan said his sales were down 30% to 35% prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and down 55% since wildfires started in the region in August. He believes the fires’ toll on tourism since 2017 has been immense.
“It’s been a tough four years,” he said. “To throw a pandemic and fires into the mix, it’s starting to feel like we’re going to Vegas here: Is the deck stacked against us?”
But Jordan isn’t going to stop.
“Agriculture is not for the faint of heart,” he said. “In order to be a farmer you somehow have to be an eternal optimist. I don’t know any farmers that aren’t on some level a mild optimist.”
Those looking for a way to help can donate to the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund, managed by Napa Valley Community Foundation, which was created following the 2014 Napa Earthquake.