Sonoma County wineries, restaurants, and hotels are trying to get the word out that Sonoma wine country escaped mostly unscathed from the Kincade Fire, which was declared 100 percent contained as of Wednesday. And most of the grape harvest was complete by the time the fire began on October 23, meaning the 2019 vintage should be a-ok.
"I have to thank the people who planted our vineyards and built our house 100 years ago,” says Limerick Lane Wines owner Jake Bilbro, speaking to the Associated Press. “Our buildings are all surrounded by vineyards, and vineyards are excellent fire breaks.”
Lovers of Sonoma Zinfandel, Cabernet, and Pinot Noir can rest assured that much of the wine was saved despite the late-October blaze — in contrast to two years ago, when the Tubbs and Nuns Fires deeply impacted Sonoma's harvest, specifically Cabernet, making 2017 Sonoma Cab a difficult thing to find. Bilbro tells the AP that all of Limerick Lane's grapes were harvested and the wines were safe in tanks and barrels in a sealed cellar when the Kincade Fire began.
Limerick Lane is not far from Soda Rock Winery, whose tasting room was destroyed in toto thanks to flying embers from miles away. (Soda Rock was making its wine at a separate facility at the time of the fire, which was undamaged, and its tastings have resumed at a pop-up tasting room in the barn on the property that didn't burn.) But in large part, the Alexander Valley, Geyserville, and Healdsburg were spared this time around from what could have been a devastating fire.
Bilbro's brother, Sam Bilbro of Idlewild Wines, reached out to Wine Enthusiast this week to put out a similar message. "While this [was] a massive fire, ‘wine country’ [was] not, in fact, on fire,” Sam wrote in an email. "To be specific, 6.9% of Sonoma County’s acreage has burned this go around. That’s a staggering number, but it is a hell of a lot less than the image people are being led to believe. … Most of wine country is beautiful and alive."
Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers, tells Wine Spectator that 92 percent of her 1,800 growers' grapes were harvested by the time the fire began.
Bret Munselle of Munselle Vineyards in Alexander Valley tells the AP that he lost "about half of the young vines he had planted just two months before" the fire, on one upper part of his property, and a damaged drainage system will cost about $150,000 to repair.
Hotel owners and others report that tourism is way down this fall after all the coverage of the fires. Joe Bartolomei of Forestville's Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant tells the AP that only two of his 25 rooms were occupied this week, at a time when he's usually sold out.
"We as a community went through something pretty traumatic, and it shook a lot of people,” said chef Dustin Valette, speaking to Wine Spectator. He's the owner of Valette restaurant in Healdsburg — which donated all of its pricey food stock to first responders when the power went out in the first days of the fire. "Like with a hurricane or a bad winter storm, it feels like people hunkered down for a few days, but they are starting to come back out. We sold out nights [this past] Sunday and Monday [after the evacuations were lifted]," Valette said.
Photo: Trent Erwin