Santa Rosa’s Paradise Ridge Winery reopens from ashes of the 2017 wildfires
As about 200 guests gathered on his family’s Fountaingrove wine estate on a picturesque Sunday afternoon, Rene Byck’s greeting to all of them was simple but profoundly heartfelt:
“Welcome back to paradise,” Byck said.
The Byck family was celebrating the grand opening of the new events facility at its Paradise Ridge Winery, which was among the 5,636 structures destroyed in the Oct. 8, 2017, Tubbs fire that also killed 22 people.
The reopening served not only as an important milestone for the local wine sector to have one of its own returning from the ashes, but also for the overall Sonoma County community.
“It feels like our home is back open for people to enjoy,” said Byck, a co-owner of the family winery. “A lot of people had great memories up here.”
The winery had been the setting of more than 1,000 weddings as couples from across the country flocked to the rolling vineyards around the Russian River Valley estate with its bucolic sunset views looking and its sculpture garden featuring its iconic LOVE sign.
Paradise Ridge also hosted a popular wines-and-sunsets series in a small amphitheater with musical guests that attracted many locals, even some who were not major wine aficionados. The family relaunched that event series this summer on a smaller scale.
“It is difficult to go back and rebuild,” said David Rabbitt, Sonoma County Board of Supervisors chairman. “There’s something about the human spirit that rises from the ashes. That’s exactly with the family of Paradise Ridge.”
The modern, two-story $6 million space has a catering kitchen and a new private tasting room.
The upper deck has also been expanded with a facility that allows for a tremendous amount of natural light. The family has already booked weddings for next year; tastings are now available by appointment.
“When you look out at the view, you don’t see the devastation that happened,” Byck said.
Walter and Marijke Byck bought the 155-acre property in 1978, and their five children were mostly raised there. When he first saw the property, Walter told his family, “I have seen paradise.”
The couple started the winery in 1994, and it sources from its own grapes on its 15 acres of planted vineyards.
The winery is known for a wide-ranging portfolio, from its pinot noir to a sparkling blanc de blancs, and produces 10,000 cases annually.
There have been struggles during the rebuild, which began Oct. 23, 2018. The family was able to survive with its business interruption coverage policy that paid out $3.1 million. Its vineyards were largely unscathed, so it could source its own fruit and then make the wine at other local wineries. It also maintained a second tasting room in Kenwood to host visitors.
Like other Sonoma County residents, the family is part of a lawsuit against PG&E for the Tubbs fire that has just reached a tentative settlement. Because they are underinsured by almost $10 million, they have also filed a lawsuit against their insurer, Byck said, which would help cover the rebuild costs of three residences on the property as well as the winemaking facility, which was also destroyed.
“We’re trying to recover closer to whole,” Byck said.
The decision to focus on the events facility made economic sense because it represented 50% of its revenue and the winery was hosting up to 70 weddings per year before the fire.
“This is what we do. We bring people in and share Sonoma County with them,” said Sonia Byck-Barwick, co-owner and Rene’s sister. “Today couldn’t be more magical. I have been told by so many people, ‘I feel that I’ve come home.’ ”
You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @BillSwindell.