Two Sonoma County wineries damaged by Kincade fire in Alexander Valley

At least two wineries burned in the Alexander Valley on Sunday as the Kincade fire flew down the hills and jumped to the valley floor, where fire crews attempted to outrace the wind-driven embers and defend the well-traveled wine corridor along Highway 128.

Meanwhile, vintners around Windsor and Healdsburg grew increasingly concerned as the blaze neared the two cities, home to many wineries in northern Sonoma County.

Soda Rock Winery suffered major damage as flames gutted the historic 150-year-old stone winery, which once served as the hub of activity in the Alexander Valley as the area's post office and general store.

Its distinctive 20-foot-tall steel sculpture of a boar, by Glen Ellen artist Bryan Tedrick, survived the fire, but flames damaged all buildings on the property except a barn, leaving only rubble, twisted metal and the winery's stone facade. Purchased in 2000 by Ken and Diane Wilson, the winery had been extensively renovated using recycled and green materials while attempting to preserve its historic character.

“We've seen the news. We are devastated,” stated an Instagram post by the winery. “Our staff is safe - right now what is most important is the safety of the first responders battling the fire.”

Buildings at the Spire Collection at Field Stone Vineyard were also damaged, but the extent could not be determined Sunday morning. The property is owned by Jackson Family Wines, whose proprietor, Julia Jackson, lost her Geyserville house last week as a result of the Kincade fire.

Other nearby wineries appear to be relatively unscathed, including Verité Winery and Alexander Valley Vineyards.

Hank Wetzel, owner of Alexander Valley Vineyards, said several outbuildings suffered minor damage on his property. He has about 500 tons of grapes still in the vineyard, which could likely go to rot as the property does not have electricity.

“We just don't know if we are going to get them picked at this point,” Wetzel said.

With nearly 15,000 acres of vineyards, Alexander Valley is home to 31 wineries and 82 growers. About 80 percent of the valley's grape crop had been picked before the Kincade fire started last week, said Michael Haney, executive director of the Sonoma County Vintners trade group. The valley, known for its premium cabernet sauvignon, is typically the last wine region where harvest wraps up for the season.

In Healdsburg, Dominic Foppoli said the fire came at the most inopportune time for his Christopher Creek Winery on Limerick Lane. Foppoli farms a cabernet sauvignon vineyard on Chalk Hill Road that has not yet been picked. “Good luck,” Foppoli said sarcastically on the chances to be able to harvest that fruit.

Much of this year's vintage is already in the tanks and midway through fermentation, but the fire and PG&E blackout had shut down work at the boutique winery. “There's no way I'm letting our winemaking team go to the winery today,” he said.

About half of his wine is produced at Merriam Vineyards in Windsor, where fire crews were battling parts of the fire along Milk Barn Road. Complicating matters: If his wine spoils as a result of the power outage, Foppoli said his insurance policy will not cover the loss.

“If it (the fire) goes one way, I lose half of my production. If it goes another way, I lose half of my production,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or On Twitter @BillSwindell.

Bill Swindell

Business, Beer and Wine, The Press Democrat  

In the North Coast, we are surrounded by hundreds of wineries along with some of the best breweries, cidermakers and distillers. These industries produce an abundance of drinks as well as good stories – and those are what I’m interested in writing. I also keep my eye on our growing cannabis industry and other agricultural crops, which have provided the backbone for our food-and-wine culture for generations.

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