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Napa Valley wineries get brunt of Glass fire damage amid challenging harvest

A smattering of Napa Valley wineries and swaths of their premium vineyards suffered heavy damage or were gutted, as the Glass fire swept through Sunday and continued burning Monday in the midst of an already challenging wine grape harvest.

So far, Sonoma County wineries have been spared serious property damage from this blaze. However, by late Monday there were concerns about smoke and nearby flames in the Sonoma Valley, wine industry officials said.

And with this conflagration on the heels of August’s Walbridge fire in Sonoma and the Hennessey fire in Napa, vintners predicted the region’s 2020 harvest essentially would end because of the high risk, since only smoke-damaged grapes were left on the vines. This year’s harvest started early at the beginning of August and without wildland blazes was expected to go through October.

The casualty count in Napa was still in flux Monday night. But it included Chateau Boswell winery on Silverado Trail, which was engulfed by flames that left only a shell of its stone winery. The Castello di Amorosa, the castle winery in Calistoga, lost its farmhouse, a spokesman said. And a more than 100-year-old barn and home at the Tofanelli Family Vineyard in Calistoga was destroyed, owner Vince Tofanelli said.

“I’m numb. It’s very frustrating,” Tofanelli said, noting he had been blocked from visiting his property Monday by police officers. He did not know the extent of damage to his vineyards, but acknowledged he was lucky since he finished his wine grape harvest on Sept. 17.

Over at Castello di Amorosa, the winery lost a 145,000-square-foot structure used for wine storage, a bottling line and fermentation site with offices on the top level, owner Dario Sattui said. Firefighters were able to save its underground cellars. The loss included 2,500 cases of wine stored for its tasting room and for shipping.

“It’s crazy and unbelievable ... what we are seeing in loss and devastation,” Jim Sullivan, spokesman for Castello di Amorosa, said of the fires that torched the northern part of Napa Valley.

One bright spot was fire crews managed to hold back the flames from encroaching west across Silverado Trail and onto the valley floor where it could have caused massive damage, vintners said. Duckhorn Vineyards and Rombauer Vineyards were two beneficiaries and commended firefighters in social media posts for keeping their properties safe.

In Sonoma County, the wildfire cause more consternation for vintners than damage.

Steve Ledson, owner and winemaker at Ledson Winery in Kenwood, brought a crew of four men and a water truck normally used for irrigation to his property on Highway 12 just after 10 p.m. Sunday night. With rakes and shovels and the water truck, Ledson's crew cut a line on three sides of his property. The highway marked the fourth side.

By Monday morning, property on all three sides were scorched, including a razed home directly east of the main winery building, but Ledson's "castle" was untouched.

Ledson said employees actually were picking grapes late Sunday on his Kenwood vineyard when the Glass fire paid a visit.

"We were up late last night picking and we heard the fire was coming closer," he said. "I brought the water truck, filled it and sure enough, everything was in flames."

"Without this we would have been screwed," he said, pointing to his irrigation truck.

Vintners said the Glass fire would force them to wrap up the harvest as soon as possible given the probability a lot fruit still on the vines will be unusable because of smoke taint.

“I think harvest is largely over,” said Pat Roney, chief executive officer of Vintage Wine Estates of Santa Rosa, which owns such local wineries as B.R. Cohn, Clos Pegase, Girard, Viansa and Windsor Vineyards.

Staff Writer Kerry Benefield and freelancer Derek Moore contributed to this article. You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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