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Paradise Ridge Winery undaunted by cost, challenges of rebuild

Rebuilding isn’t easy. Like many of their neighbors in Fountaingrove, the owners of Paradise Ridge Winery have discovered it takes much more money and time to rebuild than anticipated.

The Santa Rosa winery burned to the ground in the October 2017 wildfires. Nine of the 10 buildings on the property were destroyed. The winery was filled with just-harvested grapes and about 10,000 cases of wine, mostly from the 2016 harvest aging in barrels, co-owner Sonia Byck-Barwick said.

The winery was severely underinsured, compounding its problems, she said. But her father, winery founder Walter Byck, and his family were undaunted.

“It’s not easy. But if it’s important to my father, it’s important to the family,” Byck-Barwick said. “We really want to show the community that it’s possible to overcome the obstacles and to come back.”

Some things won’t come back, though.

It would cost about $15 million to replace all of the buildings that were lost when the Tubbs fire swept through the hills of Fountaingrove, Byck-Barwick said. The winery was insured for about $5 million, she said.

“The gap is approximately $10 million,” she said.

To control costs, the winery is rebuilding some buildings differently than the ones lost in the fires. Others will not be rebuilt at all.

The family has completed construction on a storage building and is nearly finished with a home on the property, Byck-Barwick said. It plans to replace two other homes that were consumed in the blaze, a process that will take a year or more.

A new tasting room and event center is scheduled to open in November. Both play central roles at Paradise Ridge, named one of the top 10 winery tasting rooms in the country by USA Today in 2016.

The main tasting room will be on the ground floor, as before, but the winery is adding a private tasting room in the rebuild. There’s room for seated tastings on an upper deck, which has been expanded in the rebuild, creating a shaded area underneath.

An entry terrace, where an old oak had stood before the fire, now features three field-grown oak trees leading up to the event center. The entire building can be used for weddings and special events, the result of a decision to include a catering kitchen and extensive indoor and outdoor areas for ceremonies and receptions.

A second building will be used for winemaking, offices and storage. Unlike the one it replaces, this building will be constructed with prefabricated cement walls to reduce costs and accelerate construction, Byck-Barwick said. She estimated that it will take another year to finish the building, book weddings and other events, and get the business up and running again.

“That’s my current challenge,” she said.

She credits the winery’s survival to its business interruption insurance policy, which has paid out $3.1 million, and an outpouring of support from colleagues in the wine industry.

Bergin Screen Printing & Etching, a family-owned wine labeling business in Napa, donated free screen-printing services to the winery, Byck-Barwick said. Fellow wineries donated their production facilities. The family crushed at Moshin Vineyards in 2017 and Flanagan Vineyards in 2018. This year, they will make wine with Dutton-Goldfield, she said.

“We really feel supported by our community and on those days when you don’t feel like going forward, you know, that helps,” Byck-Barwick said.

Initially, the family estimated that 20 percent of the winery’s estate vines - 3 acres out of 15 - were damaged in the fire. They’re waiting to see if they need to replant any vines, but so far, the vineyard appears to be bouncing back, she said.

As they rebuild the winery, Byck-Barwick said the family is trying new ideas to reduce the threat posed by fires and make the property sustainable. They’ve brought in sheep, both in the vineyards and on the hillsides, to graze on vegetation and reduce fire fuels. The Girl Scouts planted a bee garden in the vineyard, to help with habitat loss from the fires.

Events Manager Martha Marquez is looking forward to returning in September and showing off the new paradise to prospective brides and grooms, although she says she may cry at first.

“I am beyond ready to start working again. We were all close like family and we shared so much,” Marquez said.

Marquez lost her home in Fountaingrove during the 2017 fire. Like the winery, Marquez was underinsured. Rebuilding has been much harder and more expensive than she anticipated.

“My husband and I had many sleepless nights and deep conversations on whether to rebuild,” said Marquez.

It took time to find a builder they could afford and meeting new building codes was costly, Marquez said. Her family hopes to move into their rebuilt home at the beginning of 2020, but their return will be bittersweet: only half of their Fountaingrove neighbors will be rebuilding, she said.

The difficulty of rebuilding Paradise Ridge and the support the family has received from others has forged stronger connections between the winery and the community, co-owner Rene Byck said.

“It feels like the community has gotten closer, tighter. We’re in this together, to rebuild together,” he said. “It gave us the strength to keep moving forward with the rebuild. We are a part of the community and when we’re rebuilt it’ll be another step in the healing of the wounds of the fire.”

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