Wine After the Wildfires

The winter holidays have arrived and it’s time to consider which wines you’d like to grace your celebratory table. In support of The Golden State and the recent traumas suffered by our most prestigious wine growing areas, I propose selecting some of the finest from Napa and Sonoma. You’ll enjoy wines of incredible style and quality while supporting the fractured economy of a beleaguered region.

October was a fiery month for Napa and Sonoma. Hundreds lost their lives or were injured in the terrible inferno that destroyed homes, businesses, historic monuments, and vineyards. The fire was not one but a series of blazes that erupted on October 8 and became a massive firestorm that ranks as the very worst in California history.

The fires affected everyone in the region. Families were roused from their beds and evacuated in the wee hours of the morning only to find themselves homeless just hours later as the fires swept furiously across the land. The most devastating was the Tubbs Fire that started just north of Calistoga and decimated the town of Santa Rosa. The rural areas were hard hit and the fires extended all the way to Mendocino County.

Many vineyards and wineries were burned but fortunately most were saved from destruction. Strangely enough, vineyards actually make great fire breaks this time of year. The vines are green and leafy with little vegetation surrounding them. In many cases, the fire burned right up to the gates of a vineyard and stopped, answering the prayers of more than one proprietor.

The silver lining to the tragedy was the great spirit of community that thrived during this time of crisis.  Friends worked together to evacuate as the unthinkable overtook their once-picturesque neighborhoods. After the fires were extinguished, communities opened their homes to families that had lost everything. In the face of disaster, human kindness and the true spirit of Thanksgiving prevailed.

What does this fire mean for the wine industry of California? The industry will go on, to be sure. It’s likely that the 2017 harvest will be smaller than most but fortunately the majority of the fruit had been collected before the fire hit. Only the late-ripening cabernet sauvignon grapes were still hanging on the vines.

Says Mike Reynolds, President of Hall/Walt Wines, it was “the most interesting harvest” with which he’s ever been involved. Local growers tell stories of rinsing ashes off grapes while harvesting and crossing their fingers that smoke taint had not affected the fruit. Only time will tell what affect the blaze has had on this vintage, but Reynolds is optimistic.

“Napa Valley has recovered rather quickly from the fire,” Reynolds asserts. “Right now the biggest challenge is the loss of tourist dollars because of people cancelling their plans to visit.” Reynolds insists that except for burned hillsides, the beguiling valley is as stunning as ever. Strange as it may seem, it is the ideal time to travel to the area.

Napa and Sonoma are enjoying clear skies and breezy fall weather. If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting California’s famed wine region, do it now. The hotels, restaurants and wineries would welcome guests wholeheartedly to infuse life into their businesses. If you’d love to finally get a reservation at the acclaimed “French Laundry” restaurant, make that call today.

The notoriously well-crafted and delicious wines of Napa and Sonoma are natural accompaniments to traditional holiday foods such as roasted meats, game, or fish. You can’t go wrong. The holidays are the perfect time to check out some of the best California has to offer. Indulge in a hefty Napa chardonnay or a crisp sauvignon blanc from the Sonoma Coast.

Most wine shops carry a wonderful selection from Napa and Sonoma or go online and have a look around. Find old favorites or experiment with something new. If you are not familiar with the wines of Hall or Walt, look up the breathtaking 2014 Kathryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon for an incredibly decadent Napa-style cab, or try Walt’s 2015 Bob’s Ranch Pinot Noir for a rich, spicy wine that will bring great elegance to your holiday meal. Think of it as drinking for a cause.

If you’d like to give more directly to the recovery effort in Napa and Sonoma, go to Redwood Credit Union’s North Bay Fire Relief Fund, a 501(c)(3). All proceeds are donated directly to the fund and will help many struggling families.  

Have a beautiful holiday! Cheers!