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Sonoma County wineries undergo losses during the Kincade fire

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After the Kincade fire exploded over Geyser Peak on Oct. 23, one winery was destroyed and another severely damaged. But there were other losses for wineries throughout Geyserville and Healdsburg, where vintners are facing many unknowns after the largest fire in Sonoma County history tore through vineyards, outbuildings, pastures and landscaping.

Even wineries that were unscathed by flames were hampered in their efforts to bring in the remaining, late-ripening wine grapes such as cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot, crush them and begin fermentations. More mandatory evacuations, loss of power, road closures and toxic, smoke-filled air, kept workers out of the vineyards and wineries.

The most notable losses were Ken and Diane Wilson’s Soda Rock Winery, located on Highway 128 between Pine Flat Road and Chalk Hill Road, and Jackson Family Wines’ The Spire Collection at Field Stone Vineyard. Soda Rock, destroyed except for its 1869 stone façade and Bryan Tedrick’s Lord Snout metal sculpture (which debuted at Burning Man and was later purchased by the Wilsons), is just up the road from The Spire Collection site, where many of the Jackson family’s finest wines from Sonoma County and Napa Valley are poured.

“Based on multiple reports that we have received, we have sustained damage to the barn and winery at the Field Stone Vineyard property,” said Kristin Reitzell, vice president of public relations for Jackson Family Wines. “But the Vérité estate off Chalk Hill Road and Stonestreet winery in Alexander Valley remain structurally unharmed. While the area around all three properties was threatened by fire, we remain hopeful that there was no long-term damage to the vineyards.”

At press time, some wineries in the area had not yet reopened to visitors, so call ahead before visiting.

In the coming days, weeks and even months, wineries and vineyard owners in Alexander Valley and throughout Sonoma County will know more about the post-fire quality and quantity of their wines and the condition of their vineyards.

For now, here is an evolving list of area wineries affected in some way by the Kincade Fire.

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Alexander Valley Vineyards: According to Katie Wetzel Murphy, whose parents, Harry and Maggie Wetzel, purchased the former Cyrus Alexander homestead in the early 1960s and began to plant vineyards, the Kincade Fire burned around the edges of the property, claiming a few sheds, small buildings and a greenhouse, yet the winery and tasting room were saved by firefighters. The family residences and the original 1840s Cyrus Alexander home were also spared. As of Oct. 31, AVV had no power, though Murphy’s brother, Hank, and his son, Harry, continued to tend to the remaining wine fermentations.

Clos du Bois and Simi Winery: These Constellation Brands properties, in Geyserville and Healdsburg, respectively, suffered no fire damage, according to spokesperson Alexandra Wagner. “Our Sonoma County properties — including Simi and Clos du Bois — will remain closed to the public until the area is confirmed safe by local authorities,” Wagner stated. “ The majority of our Sonoma County harvest is complete, and we anticipate no material impact to our 2019 vintage.”

Hafner Vineyard: In an Oct. 29 Facebook post, the small, family winery posted this: “One neighborhood family and business did something extraordinary and unimaginable for us ... In an unprecedented act of kindness and selflessness, the Jackson Family (of Jackson Family Wines) without a second thought told us to go get their generator and use it at our winery so we could save our fermentations and pick the rest of our cabernet sauvignon grapes. No words will be able to express our gratitude to them.”

Hanna Winery Alexander Valley: President Christine Hanna said a propane tank at the Alexander Valley Road winery southeast of Healdsburg – and just down the road from Alexander Valley Vineyards and Field Stone – burned but did not explode, and some landscaping was singed. Otherwise, the winery and tasting room were undamaged. “Some vines look a little crispy,” she said, “as does a beautiful old-growth oak. We were very, very lucky.”

Hanna and her family were double evacuees, as their Hanna Winery Russian River Valley, on the outskirts of Santa Rosa, received departure orders. “We were evacuated at 3 Sunday morning (Oct. 27),” Hanna explained. “My son, husband and I were staying in a house on the Santa Rosa property after being evacuated from our Healdsburg home on Saturday. We have a generator that is allowing us to continue winemaking operations.”

Ferrari-Carano Winery: The tourist-loving Geyserville gem has its estate winery in Dry Creek Valley and another in Alexander Valley for red wines. “Our red-winery facility on Highway 128 was surrounded by fire, but luckily it is still standing with no damage (and) running with our generators,” said executive winemaker Sarah Quider.

Foley Sonoma, Lancaster Estate, Roth Estate Winery and Chalk Hill Winery: Owned by Foley Family Wines, these four wineries – the first in Geyserville, the other three in the Alexander Valley and Chalk Hill AVAs east of Healdsburg – avoided significant damage in the Kincade Fire. Gerard Thoukis, chief marketing officer for the company, issued a statement reading: “From all of Foley Family Wines, we would like to extend a sentiment of extreme gratitude for the heroic efforts of all First Responders in fighting the Kincade Fire. We are relieved and grateful to report that, although a few of our properties suffered damage to non-essential buildings and equipment, all employees are accounted for and safe while our wineries escaped major damage. Having been admitted back on to our properties to take stock of what remains, one thing is abundantly clear – there was a courageous and consuming fight to save what we hold dear.”

Francis Ford Coppola Winery and Virginia Dare Winery: Sister wineries owned by film legend Francis Ford Coppola, both west of Highway 101 in Geyserville, were unharmed by the fire. Generators kept winery operations going, though the tasting rooms were initially closed. “Our priority, from when we closed at 2 p.m. on Saturday (Oct. 26), was to get our people home and safe,” said CEO and Winemaking Chief Corey Beck. At harvest time, the two wineries employ 300 people.

Garden Creek Vineyards: Owners and co-winemakers Justin and Karin Miller lost six structures to flames on their property northwest of Robert Young Estate Winery, including worker housing. Displaced workers were sent to housing the Miller family owns in Cloverdale. Fire also consumed a section of their cabernet sauvignon vineyard, the part they use for their own Tesserae brand. The majority of their annual crop is sold to other wineries, lessening the financial blow, yet the Millers’ favorite blocks go into their own wines.

Jordan Vineyard & Winery: The Healdsburg winery and visitor center tapped its generator to supply continuous power to the winery. The facility, residences, garden, vista point and pastures went unscathed by fire. Jordan director of marketing and communications Lisa Mattson said that pasture, and its 60 cows, helped shield the property from flames. “A firefighter who was part of the strike team that went to West Soda Rock Road on Saturday night/Sunday morning to take a stand against the spot fire that was about to encroach on the southeast corner of the property used to work for Tim Spence in our operations department,” Mattson explained. “He sent (owner) John Jordan a text message on Sunday, telling him they were determined to hold that line and not let the fire get to Jordan. He also told John that having 60 cows grazing on the southeast corner of our ranch really helped because there was no ground fuel for the fire. But John already knew that. That’s one of the main reasons why he has so many cows. They are integral to our fire protection plan.” Tours and tastings resumed on Nov. 4.

J. Rickards Winery: On Oct. 30, the Geyserville winery’s website reported: “We are deeply saddened by the devastation of our neighbors’ properties across the valley. Our thanks to everyone who has reached out with good thoughts, and to the first responders defending the county. We are fine and will continue the work to finish our wines.”

Medlock Ames: The winery and organically farmed vineyards are situated on the border of the Alexander and Knights valleys. Owners Chris Medlock James and Ames Morison said through social media, “The Kincade Fire swept quickly through our vineyards at Bell Mountain Ranch and touched almost 75% of our property. With the amazing efforts of the first responders, none of the buildings — including our winery, barns and offices — burned. A few vines out of our 55 acres were singed. Our wines were safe in our winery and the remaining 30 tons we harvested quickly and were brought to our friends at Saintsbury in Carneros as soon as the evacuation order was given.”

Robert Young Estate Winery: General Manager Karen Maley did a masterful job of using social media to keep customers and media apprised of the eventually successful fight to save the winery, tasting room and residence from the flames. The Young family did lose an outbuilding, some equipment and hay field for the family’s 50 head of cattle. “The fire couldn’t have been any closer” to the structures that count, Maley said. “(Brothers) Fred and Jim Young, and Fred’s son, Robbie, stayed on the property since Wednesday (Oct. 23) night, as roadblocks would prevent them from coming back. Firefighters saved the estate, and there’s going to be one heck of a party for them.” The tasting facility, the Scion House, reopened on Nov. 6.

Silver Oak Alexander Valley: Vice President of Winemaking Nate Weis reported on Facebook that “Silver Oak Alexander Valley had a scare but is perfectly fine. We have a generator and hundreds of thousands of gallons of water to feed the fire pump, so there’s no place I’d rather be in a fire (except, maybe, somewhere that there isn’t a fire).

Skipstone Ranch: The winery reported that the fire swept through its estate grounds in Geyserville, destroying several structures; the main residence was saved. “Portions of our vineyard and olive groves also suffered some damage, but we will repair and replant as necessary in the affected areas to fully recover, the by-appointment-only winery posted. “Our wine and olive oil program will continue uninterrupted. The 2019 wine lots are safely fermenting and the recent vintages are aging in barrels in our remote winery, so there is no impact to any of our Skipstone wine in the very near term.”

Sutro Wine Co.: Flames came close to its Warnecke Ranch & Vineyard on Chalk Hill Road but did not damage vines or structures. Alice Sutro, who owns the brand with her husband, Eliot Sutro, is available for tastings, by appointment, in downtown Healdsburg; vineyard hikes are postponed for the time being.

Trentadue Winery: With a hurrah, the Geyserville winery’s Facebook page announced: “The smoke has cleared, the skies are blue and we miss you! We are open for business so stop by the Tasting Room and join us for a tasting of our award-winning wines.”

Trione Vineyards and Winery: Located just east of Highway 101, south of Geyserville, Trione lost power but suffered no fire damage.

Zialena Winery: As they did in the 2017 Pocket Fire, flames came close to the Geyserville winery but did no damage to the buildings or vineyards. “One fence at the far end of the property caught fire, but that was it, said Lisa Mazzoni, who owns Zialena with her winemaker brother, Mark Mazzoni. “Matt has been able to complete pump-overs and is pleased with how the wines are fermenting.”

Most Healdsburg downtown tasting rooms re-opened after the evacuation order was lifted and power was restored.

Linda Murphy is a Healdsburg- based wine writer. Contact her at linda@lindamurphywine.com.

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