Reports of the destruction of Wine Country have been greatly exaggerated.
Yes, six major wildfires torched portions of the region in October. Yes, they were scary. And deadly. They caused a lot of damage, burning entire neighborhoods in minutes.
But despite the terrible realities in certain places, most of Wine Country is just fine. The fires burned about 199,000 acres, or about 5.3 percent of the 3.7 million acres across Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties. Most of the area devastated by fire was rural or residential—all told, only 3 wineries were destroyed, and fewer than 10 others were damaged to the point of having to close.
Now that the fires are contained, Wine Country needs some TLC. Regional marketing organizations on both sides of the Mayacamas Mountains say tourism has dropped since the fires began. The scenes in wineries, restaurants, and hotels across the region confirm these reports—during what is typically the busiest time of year, Wine Country destinations are slower than they should be. Here’s how you can help turn the tide.
The easiest way to assist in Wine Country’s recovery is to buy local wine. First and foremost, consider quaffing varieties from the three wineries that were destroyed in the blaze: Paradise Ridge, Signorello Estate, and Frey Vineyards. Though the primary tasting and production facilities at each of these three were burned, Paradise Ridge still has a tasting room on Highway 12 in Kenwood, and Frey is available online. (Signorello is distributed through allocation membership.)
Once Santa Rosa’s Fountaingrove neighborhood is reopened to the public, it also might be meaningful to visit the sculpture garden at Paradise Ridge, which survived the blaze because the pieces are composed of metal and stone.
In the more immediate future, pay a visit to wineries that were damaged in the fires. On the Sonoma side, this includes Gundlach Bundschu and Nicholson Ranch; on the Napa side, it includes Hess Collection, Brown Estate, and William Hill Estate. To truly spread the love, stop by Ledson Winery & Vineyards in the Sonoma Valley and Regusci Vineyard along Silverado Trail in Napa—flames came within yards of the wineries at each property, and only through great acts of personal heroism did these two wineries survive.
Even among those wineries that weren’t directly affected by the fires, every penny helps. In many cases, buying wine at these places also indirectly helps local relief efforts, since dozens of wineries are donating proceeds from each sale to charity.
On the Napa side, Trinchero Family Estates wineries are donating all tasting fees through the end of November to the Napa Valley Community Foundation. In Sonoma County, Trattore Farms at the west end of the Dry Creek Valley is donating 100 percent of all profits from tasting fees, olive oils, and vinegars through mid-December to local fire relief. The list goes on and on. If you’re wondering whether a particular winery is donating to relief efforts, it never hurts to ask.
Dozens of Wine Country restaurants and hotels have supported members of their respective communities since the fires, and these establishments deserve support as well.
Many of the worthy restaurants are on the Sonoma side. In Cloverdale, swing by The Trading Post and thank Chef Erik Johnson, who prepared free meals for 200 evacuees on the night the fires broke out. In Santa Rosa, consider supporting Starks Steakhouse, Bird & the Bottle, and Monti’s —three restaurants that fed first responders and evacuees for free. Money spent at these latter eateries directly benefits the Stark Reality Restaurants group, which also lost the iconic Willi’s Wine Bar in one of the fires.
What’s more, restaurants throughout Wine Country (and the entire Bay Area, for that matter) are participating in a fundraiser called ChefsGiving from Nov. 13-19. As part of this effort, the eateries will offer special menus, and 100 percent of proceeds from the meals will benefit Tipping Point Emergency Relief Fund and Restaurants Care. Eateries on the list include The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, the girl & the fig in Sonoma, and more.
Among hotels, the Napa River Inn in downtown Napa and DoubleTree by Hilton, Sonoma Wine Country in Rohnert Park both deserve special love, since the properties took in dozens of first responders and evacuees for free or at discounted rates, and fed them for days.
Just like wineries, many hotels will donate to fire relief, too. Hotel Healdsburg, in downtown Healdsburg, will donate 5 percent of every reservation to North Bay Fire Relief and the Community Foundation of Sonoma County’s Resilience Fund. What’s more, Auberge du Soleil, a luxury hotel in St. Helena, will match an optional guest donation of $5 per night through the end of the year; all money benefits the Napa Valley Community Foundation.
Another way to help relief efforts is to contribute to them directly. WineCountry Media, the parent company of this website, has created a WineCountry Relief Fund; readers can opt to donate directly or to donate 5 percent of all proceeds for experiences booked and completed from now through the end of the year.
Other worthwhile and charitable relief efforts include the Community Foundation of Sonoma County’s Resilience Fund, the Redwood Credit Union’s North Bay Fire Relief Fund, the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund, and the Santa Rosa Junior College Fire Relief Fund, which aims to provide financial assistance to more than 500 faculty, staff members, and students who lost their homes.
Of course the final way to assist with local recovery efforts is to help spread the word that Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino are open for business. To achieve this goal, Wine Country Media is encouraging readers to tag social posts from Wine Country with the hashtag, #withWineCountry. As another part of this campaign, the team has embarked on a photo journey through the region, sharing scenes from local businesses as they invite visitors to stay, eat, drink, taste, play, and explore the region. They are also profiling a number business leaders to tell their stories of triumph through the fires. Visit the campaign landing page to see the latest.
The bottom line for the next few months: be involved. Wine Country has embarked on a long-term recovery, and the more you participate in this return to normalcy, the more normal life will feel for locals and visitors alike.