Sonoma County wineries continue the grape harvest using backup power

Regional wineries have ramped up emergency plans for PG&E’s scheduled power outage Wednesday by securing generators and electricians so they will be able to continue with the annual grape harvest that still has about a month remaining.

The preemptive power shutdown to help curtail potential fires comes at a crucial time as wineries are taking in late red grape varieties into their crush pads along the North Coast this week. Also, vintners are fermenting Burgundian varietals in their tanks and storing wine in barrels from past vintages. No power could spoil much of the wine stock depending on the length of the outage.

PG&E said Tuesday power restoration should start Thursday at noon and could take five days.

“Last time I didn’t think they (PG&E) were serious. This time I think they might be out to prove they are,” said David Ramey, owner of Ramey Wine Cellars in Healdsburg.

Healdsburg is in the heart of the Sonoma County wine industry with numerous wineries located there.

Ramey worked with his winemaker, Cameron Frey, to rent a generator and secure the services of a electrician at a cost of $1,000 a week.

“We discussed it yesterday as warnings started to pile up and decided to move quickly … and get one before they’re gone,” Ramey said.

Wineries countywide are mostly prepared for the temporary power cut and a few are even offering to store chilled grapes or use their crush pads for those unable to operate without power, said Michael Haney, executive director of the Sonoma County Vintners trade group.

“This type of thing is uncharted waters,” Haney said, noting that it appears wineries will not be reimbursed from their business insurance coverage for any disruption costs because the policies typically don’t cover such power shut-offs.

Sugarloaf Custom Crush in Sonoma Valley is prepared after its experience from the 2017 wildfires when the winery lost power for about four days, said Ronald Du Preez, winemaker and general manager for the company that has 35 winery clients.

In July, the winery secured a generator to rent for the harvest and had a crew install a transfer switch that allows Du Preez to manually switch over to backup power instead of waiting for an electrician. He had thought about buying a generator but the cost of at least $120,000 was too expensive. But he figures the winery will buy one within the next five years given the elevated fire risk in the North Bay.

“We essentially have a complete standalone island here,” he said of his power generation capability. “I have to process $30,000 in grapes tomorrow morning. … For us, it’s crucial that the building be up and running.”

The power outage also will affect one of the county’s major craft breweries. Russian River Brewing Co. plans to close its downtown Santa Rosa brewpub on Wednesday, if there’s no electricity, but keep open its Windsor brewery and restaurant. The 10-acre Windsor site has a generator that can provide power for beer production, barrel storage and the restaurant, co-owner Natalie Cilurzo said.

However, the Russian River backup power generator would come with a hefty price tag of up to a $30,000 rental fee plus daily fuel costs from $10,000 to $15,000, Cilurzo said.

“We can’t afford this right now. … We can’t afford not to do it, either,” she said of not keeping the brewery open on backup power if necessary. “We could lose a lot of inventory.”

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or

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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