'It’s surreal' – owner Diane Wilson surveying Soda Rock Winery
The wooden letters that spell Soda Rock are still intact on the stone façade, the only wall still standing after the Alexander Valley winery burned last week in the Kincade fire.
With a heap of twisted metal from the roof behind her, vintner Diane Wilson stood on the rubble and said, “The whole thing has been surreal.”
Wilson was surveying the remains of her winery, set on a historic 150-year old property that was once a hub of activity as Alexander Valley’s post office and general store.
“The goal is just to see it first hand and get a visual of the devastation,” she said.
This was the first time the vintner had returned to her property to assess the damage from the winds that roared through the area in the early morning of Oct. 27, spewing flames. She and her husband Ken had been in San Francisco, taking refuge from the power outage at their Healdsburg home.
As she stood before the ruins, a Fox news reporter was doing a stand-up in the distance, while a drone was flying overhead to record video for The Washington Post.
“How did that strip of lights above the stone wall survive?” Wilson asked. “And the barn? I cannot believe that 100-year old wooden barn survived. It’s so funny what survived and what didn’t.”
Over the weekend the winery showed its resilience by holding tastings in the barn, with plans to continue hosting them there daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Wilsons purchased the property in 2000 and spent the next 10 years renovating it using recycled and green materials, while attempting to preserve its historic character.
“This was Ken’s labor of love,” Wilson said. “He spent 10 years collecting things for the winery, like the old wooden bar from the restaurant that’s now known as Diavola in Geyerville.”
Many paintings by noted Healdsburg painter Wade Hoefer were on the walls throughout the winery, where Hoefer also maintained a studio. The Wilsons were concerned about him, knowing he had gone to his studio late Saturday afternoon.
“We couldn’t get in touch with him,” Wilson said, “and everybody was worried and concerned.”
They later were able to track him down.
Wilson, who also is a hands-on winemaker for several of the Wilson’s 10 wineries, was wearing a flannel shirt, a black down vest, blue jeans and brown boots.
Pulling off her sunglasses, she explained that a full range of wine was produced on the property, with its specialty Bordeaux varietals. The day-to-day winemaker at Soda Rock Winery, Antoine Favero, said it produced roughly 7,000 cases a year, and much of it is still available in warehouses.
“Where do we go from here?,” Wilson asked. “It feels like such a big undertaking. I think we have to rebuild. I think we owe it to Alexander Valley not to leave it like this.”
Aside from Soda Rock, the Wilsons own wineries scattered throughout the North Coast, with a geographical reach into Anderson Valley, Hopland, Healdsburg and Kenwood.
“We’re in, but I think every fall that the rains come so late, we’ll be in fear,” Wilson said. “We’ll have to invest in generators. We can’t go again with wine being abandoned for five or six days.”
All 10 of the Wilson wineries were without power for a few days with DeLorimier Winery in Alexander Valley taking the biggest hit, going eight days without power.
“Some wines have had very little attention,” Wilson said. “There’s been no way to chill or do a pump over. But sometimes the temperature maintains itself. Luckily, we’ve dodged the biggest bullets.”
With her border collies Ben and Molly nearby, Wilson smiled, calling them her “faithful companions.”
“I’m thankful no lives have been lost in this fire and Sonoma County survived it all,” Wilson said. “There’s still devastation around, so life has changed. But we always have to move forward one way or another. It’s just not always the way you planned it or want it to be.”