On Sunday October 8th I was excited as I settled in to watch the final round of PGA Tour event, The Safeway Open being played 2 hours north of my home at Silverado Country Club in Napa; a course I know well. It is a beautiful setting and as I tuned in the announcer was saying that the conditions were going to be more difficult today as the forecast called for the wind to pick up in the late afternoon as the leaders headed for the back nine. The swirling winds were coming from the north-east creating offshore winds that are typical for October in the bay area, pushing back the fogbank and creating beautiful weather. Brendon Steel ended up winning by a stroke, but that would soon be an insignificant afterthought.
When I woke at 7am the next morning and turned on the TV I could not believe what I saw! The first picture was of the stands on fire at the golf course and multi-million dollar estates and condos on the hillsides of the course completely destroyed by fire. The next shot was from the deck at Signorello Vineyards overlooking the valley on the Silverado Trail, where I have enjoyed the view many times with my customers; the winery completely destroyed. The winds that ripped thru the valley downed power lines and started 4 huge fires about the same time. I was sick to my stomach but that was just the beginning.
Silverado and Signorello were victims of the Atlas Fire that eventually burnt 36,793 Acers. In southern Sonoma the Patrick Fire was burning on both sides of highway 12 and merged with the Nuns fire that started between Glen Ellen and Kenwood these two fires would destroy 56,624 acres. Great damage was done in all of these fires but the Tubbs fire that started northeast (thank goodness) of the town of Calistoga town spared the town but the fire raced west and over the Mayacamas mountain range with incredible speed. Even our recent wet and snowy winter of 2016 was not enough to erase four straight years of drought, parched trees and brush and the fire took over the town of Santa Rosa destroying large residential communities.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle the fires burned over 400 square miles of land, destroyed 8,400 structures, prompted 100,000 people to evacuate and killed at least 42 people.
While all of our people and estates at PrimeCellar are safe and unharmed, including the Lamborn Family on Howell Mountain but here at K&L Wine Merchants we know many of our customer’s horror stories. It is terribly sad and will take many, many years to recover and many lost everything. Some will rebuild, some do not have the resources to rebuild or are in the later stages of life and lack the energy.
Here at K&L the managers sprung right into action, creating 4 different raffles to aid the victims of the fires; in 4 days it raised $204,000! Only a drop considered what will be needed but indeed a remarkable effort from a local wine store.
Life may never be normal again for residences of Santa Rosa but today on Thursday 10-27 almost 3 weeks after the fire, 13 Santa Rosa schools opened up and 11 more will open on Monday the 30th and welcome back the students, many from families that lost everything. Today the Napa Valley Wine Train rolled up the valley for the first time since the fires.
One of my customers had a beautiful ranch and sprawling home in Sonoma and had just finished building his dream house on the top of a mountain in Sonoma with a view to the Pacific Ocean. The fires wiped out both estates, and they fled after grabbing an 85 year old neighbor while flames burnt the sides of the car. The only possessions they have are the clothes on their backs and a bottle of homemade Zinfandel a neighbor had dropped off that morning his wife grabbed as they ran out. But they consider themselves extremely lucky because they have the resources to rebuild and that the day before the fire they moved the wine collection into the new home; and inventoried it as it was put away. That inventory will be very helpful for insurance purposes.
Shelters housing hundreds of families may remain open for months as many have nowhere to go, little money and no close family. We pray for the people affected by this tragedy and hope for their strength and good luck. We can always help support by enjoying the wines of Napa and Sonoma.
I look forward to seeing and tasting with you, our PrimeCellar members in person in early November.
Cheers to you! Ralph Sands