Without the heroics of firefighters and friends, Beltane Ranch would be ash, which is why owners of this Glen Ellen inn and winery transformed their annual November zinfandel release party into a community love fest. Their gesture of overwhelming gratitude raised more than $50,000 for firefighters and fire victims in Glen Ellen and Kenwood.
Still coping with their trauma and losses, they hosted a dinner dance and auction, held in a battery-candlelit horse barn, that was tearful, laughter laced and the ultimate example of neighborly love.
The 911 call from Beltane Ranch Inn and Winery is believed to be one of the first received when the wildfires began raging, and the family’s efforts to beat back the flames succeeded when the local fire departments arrived, saving the inn, Alexa Wood’s cottage and her daughter Lauren Benward Krause’s family home on the property, while a barn, other small structures and about 700 cases of Beltane Ranch wines were taken by flames.
Wood, Krause and her brother, Alex Benward, who lives near the ranch and has 14 years of experience as a volunteer firefighter, made sure their bed-and-breakfast guests were safely evacuated. They then fought the fire with garden hoses and shovels. Some cars belonging to guests burned, and Benward sent two couples off to safety in his 1972 vintage Ford Bronco.
The smoky inn had been closed for a month when it came time for the annual wine release party in November. Deciding to go forward with the dinner dance while still emotionally reeling from the fires, they were in no mood to party.
“It leaves you in a state of shock. You’re sort of different afterwards, like you’ve experienced another world,” Wood said.
So they decided to make the event a way to say thanks, adding a fundraising auction to benefit local fire departments and victims of the fires, with each of the team owners designing their own auction lot.
More than three months have passed since the fires and the inn is again open, yet when Krause thinks of the support her family received, tears still come and her voice almost fails her.
“Each of us came up with something that was true to us and true to the ranch. We wanted it to be authentic,” Krause said.
Wood is known as an expert in the kitchen, always using fresh ingredients from the property’s extensive gardens, so she offered a five-course dinner for 12, paired with Beltane Ranch estate wines, to be served in the inn or on the lawn overlooking the Valley of the Moon, often a sought-after wedding venue.
“It’s a miracle we are still here,” she said. “I really felt the need to do something.”
Krause went with a more casual Beltane experience for a larger crowd of 25 guests, offering her homemade guacamole and ceviche, estate wines and adding a taco truck for a dinner served on either the lawn or in the vineyards.
When Benward designed his lot he included his old Bronco, offering a ride in it to the Fremont Diner for brunch, followed by a barrel tasting at Beltane, a tour of private ranches in the Valley and a sunset picnic in the vineyard.
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