Sonoma County’s Jackson Family among vineyard owners impacted by Kincade fire

The fire whipped through choice vineyards and Sonoma County Wine Country estates, damaging or destroying some of the region's most valuable property.|

The Kincade fire, driven by fierce winds, whipped through choice vineyards and Sonoma County Wine Country estates, damaging or destroying some of the region’s most valuable property.

In the midst of the smoke and haze that hung thick as the mercury rose over the Alexander Valley, Jackson Family Wines scion Julia Jackson’s home, and numerous buildings on the Jackson Family estate, were destroyed.

At least a half-dozen homes - and more structures - were destroyed in areas around Highway 128, Red Winery Road and Geysers Road.

By midday Thursday, smoke still seeped from intact tree trunks and fire crackled along wooden fence lines. With winds dead, sticky smoke clung above its source material - buildings that succumbed overnight.

The acrid smell hung rich in the air, clashing with the leafy, green and yellow rows of grapevines. Many vineyard owners, even those who had already harvested, turned their sprinklers on Wednesday night in an effort to keep the wind-driven fire at bay, Supervisor James Gore said.

It wasn’t enough.

Gore toured the destruction about noon, checking up on constituents’ properties.

Some of the affected landowners were among the wealthiest in the county, representing longtime Sonoma County wine families, including the Jackson family, owners of the ninth-largest wine company in the United States, which took a direct hit.

The family, including Jackson Family Wines Chairwoman Barbara Banke, Julia’s mother, evacuated Wednesday night. Banke was on the phone with Gore as he talked through the news: the so-called Redwood House - the one that served as a focal point for entertaining - was gone.

So was Jackson’s house.

Gore said Banke’s demeanor on the phone was somber.

“But also very focused on what needed to happen to save other houses on the ranch,” Gore said.

Banke’s private security team saved her residence off Red Winery Road.

“It was a long freaking night,” one person said. “But we saved the house.”

The wildfire started Wednesday night and had consumed more than 16,000 acres by Thursday evening, as crews battled to gain the upper hand in calmer conditions. The Kincade fire comes a little more than two years after fires in Sonoma County killed 24 people and destroyed more than 5,300 homes.

Jackson announced the loss of her home on Facebook in a stark Thursday morning post, stating, “My home burnt to the ground last night.”

Jackson, founder of the Grounded Foundation and Summit on climate change a year ago, continued: “Stuff is just stuff, thank god I’m alive. This is why I’m doing the work I’m doing. This is why. This is why. ?#climatecrisis Grounded.”

Jackson chronicled her departure from home the previous night, posting photos of orange flames and smoke in the night as she took her leave. At one point about 11 p.m. Wednesday, she noted that the wildfire had come within about 4 miles of her home and that she had a “long night ahead.”

An hour later, she posted a brief video shot through the windshield of a moving car passing through smoke in the dark of night as it passed 11 fire engines and trucks coming the opposite direction.

Cal Fire crews told Gore the structures were already burning when they arrived.

Along with the Jacksons, the Robert Young Estate Winery and Vineyard and Garden Creek Vineyards suffered damage to their properties.

Robert Young Estate Winery posted at 8 a.m. on Facebook that the fire had reached the property but not the winery or the tasting room.

“Our family and team are safe. We are very grateful to the fire crews working hard to fight this fire,” the statement read.

Jordan Winery on Alexander Valley Road in Healdsburg was closed. So was Francisco Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville.

“The winery is not currently in danger, but we are without power and the town of Geyserville is under evacuation orders. Our thoughts are with our Geyserville friends and neighbors, along with the fire crews and first responders working to keep us safe,” the winery said in a statement posted on Facebook.

DeLorimier Winery was closed. “We are under mandatory evacuation, but as of right now our winery is safe. Thinking of our neighbors and praying for a positive outcome. We are incredibly thankful for the first responders who are tirelessly working to keep everyone safe.”

John Hart, owner and winemaker at Hart’s Desire Wines, said he could not reach his co-op winery on Hassett Lane in Healdsburg. He is done with harvest and the wines are safely in barrel, he said Thursday morning. The tasting room in Healdsburg was open.

Harvest and crush activities continue at other wineries. Chad Clark, manager of North Coast operations for Allied Grape Growers, said four truckloads of fruit from Lake County and Dry Creek could not be delivered to two wineries in the fire area and were rerouted to other facilities.

Justin Miller owns Garden Creek and spent the night with his crew of workers, battling the blaze.

His jeans and shirt were covered in dirt, and his eyes were bloodshot as Miller talked with Gore, his smoke mask pulled down to his neck. Miller detailed some of the crew’s firefighting efforts, including the need to use a generator to run a water pump.

“Using a generator to fuel his pump at his winery?” Gore said. “It’s crazy. That’s how all of these old volunteer fire companies started after the fires in ’64. They’re like, ‘We need to take care of our own sh--.’?”

Along Miller’s property, what looked to be worker housing had burned down, and the husk of a car sat beside the still-smoldering rubble. A broken gas line continued to flare, providing a white noise whisper between the roar of passing fire trucks.

Among those who fled from the path of the Kincade fire were scores of vineyard workers, many asleep in farmworker housing when the call to evacuate came through in the early morning hours Thursday.

They included 80 or 85 who eventually found shelter at the Healdsburg Community Center, where grape picking crews from several vineyards landed after their housing had been cleared because of the approaching blaze, said Ariel Kelley, chief executive officer of Corazon Healdsburg, a nonprofit agency helping to coordinate volunteers.

Kelley said most don’t know if they have housing to return to.

Between those who have been evacuated and others in need of help because of PG&E’s preemptive power outage, which made food storage and cooking difficult, the community center provided a place to obtain a meal or assistance such as family assistance for housing or grocery gift cards for those who lost a house or were without power, she said.

“Basically, we’re just going (through) a ‘rinse and repeat’ of 2017” - a reference to aid provided during the North Bay firestorm of October 2017, she said.

It was likely that some of those workers would be back in fields Thursday night or Friday morning, as growers were working frantically behind the scenes to save grapes from the heat.

Karissa Kruse, president of Sonoma County Winegrowers, was busy Thursday afternoon coordinating between growers, the California Agriculture Commissioner’s Office and the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office to pave the way for picking.

Grapes for cabernet sauvignon are still on the vine in the Alexander Valley. The full-bodied wine relies on a thick-skinned grape that doesn’t turn red until later. Kruse said they’re one of the last grapes harvested.

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