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Soda Rock Winery owner plans to rebuild after Kincade fire

As he walked around his gutted Soda Rock Winery on Monday, Ken Wilson said he's mostly over the shock of losing the property that he and his wife, Diane, dedicated 10 years to restore to its former glory amid the vineyards of the Alexander Valley.

With a glass of the winery's cabernet sauvignon in hand, Wilson looked at the ruins of his boutique winery east of Healdsburg and began to contemplate rebuilding after the Kincade fire. He also spoke of the overall fickleness of wildfires and how some floating embers amid whipped-up winds can make the difference between destruction and relative safety.

“I think a lot of places got hit by embers. And it's a matter of whether somebody was there to make a difference when the embers hit,” said Wilson, a Canadian native who owns 10 other area wineries.

He knows firsthand. The main Soda Rock structure that housed a small winery, hospitality and administrative offices all were destroyed, with the exception of the stone facade out front and a 20-foot tall steel sculpture of a boar by Glen Ellen artist Bryan Tedrick.

In the late 19th century, the property was a central gathering place in the Alexander Valley as the area's post office and general store.

However, an old wooden barn - that was about 150 years old - also stood nearby.

It was saved thanks to a fire crew that arrived on the morning of Oct. 27 and knocked down a small blaze right above one entryway, Wilson said.

“It was painful all last week. ... It helps to be out here,” he said. “I was kind of sitting around and couldn't even get a hamburger.”

The rebuilding likely will be taxing, said Rene Byck, whose family is almost finished reconstruction of its Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa's Fountaingrove section that burned down during the 2017 Tubbs fire. It's tentatively slated to open on Dec. 9.

“We had some great support from the community. I think he's going to see it, too,” Byck said.

He said that the Wilsons sold his family some grapes from the Rockpile wine region to help Paradise Ridge make it through the 2017 harvest.

Wilson was focused Monday on wrapping up his grape harvest on Wednesday.

Some of his grapes will go unpicked since they tested positive for chemicals related to smoke taint.

He also had to deal with not having power in his wineries as a result of the PG&E preemptive shutdown.

“There was a few stuck fermentations that will take a little bit to work out. Mostly it's turning out pretty good,” he said.

The focus soon will turn to rebuilding, which will mean that he likely will have to put his Hale Winery project in the Dry Creek Valley on the back burner after a lengthy process to get a permit for that winery.

“I have my fill. I don't need another project,” he said.

In the meantime, Wilson is encouraging people to come out to the Soda Rock winery to have a look and buy a bottle that is being sold from the old barn.

Some visitors came out over the weekend. The winery had a sign outside that said: “Recovery begins/Taste today.”

Wilson said that such informal tastings were a throwback to decades ago before wine tourism became a multibillion-dollar industry in Sonoma County.

“It goes back to the old days. This is the way people used to do it,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. 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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