Most North Bay wine tasting rooms reopen, few wineries destroyed by fires


Napa Valley Wineries are open for business, but many are pouring less wine because tourists haven’t returned since the wildfires broke out October 8. 

“The biggest fire, the Atlas Peak Fire, was right behind us beyond our warehouse,” said V. Sattui Winery president Tom Davies.

“It was quite a few miles away, maybe 13 miles or so.”

Three large wildfires surrounded Napa Valley, but the flames never reached most wineries.

“Of the nearly 500 wineries in Napa Valley, only a handful, seven or five were really damaged,” said Davies.

Wineries reopened this week. Employees waited in tasting rooms. Tractors went back to discing soil. But the terraces were quiet and parking lots not nearly as full as they often are this time of year.

“The impression is that Napa Valley has been destroyed,” said Davies.

“Absolutely we’ve had losses, but as you can see it’s an amazing, beautiful Autumn day here.”

Davies said what could destroy Napa Valley would be losing tourists. He said more than 14,000 people work in Napa Valley’s hospitality industry.

On this October weekend clear of smoke, V. Sattui Winery only hosted 25 percent of its normal tourism crowd. A similar situation was found up the road at Alpha Omega Winery, which said it was seeing half of its normal seasonal business.

“We’re getting January-February traffic in what’s normally our busiest time of the year,” said Alpha Omega Winery general manager David Bryant.

The Napa Wine Train returned to service for wine tours on Friday, but only had five riders.

There were, however, visitors who kept their trips to Napa, because of the fires.

“If we were going to spend money, we might as well spend it here where it would hopefully help people,” said Bill Wallace of Merchantville, NJ, adding his group was enjoying the weather and the wine.

Bride-to-be Ellen Mina of Livingston, NJ booked her bachelorette weekend in St. Helena as the wildfires were burning in the hills.

“You have to go and have a big bang with your bachelorette and wine tasting is what I wanted to do,” said Mena.

“I had to come out no matter what. I had to come support and I knew what was going on.”

Mena’s ten bridesmaids, however, were afraid smoke would ruin the trip and decided not to go.  Mena arrived with just her Maid-of-Honor and brother. Her bridesmaids missed out, she said.

“The wine is amazing. I’m glad I made the trip out. It was worth everything.”

The majority of Napa Valley’s wineries had harvested the grapes weeks before the fires, saving the majority of 2017 wine.

For those wanting to help Napa Valley recover post wildfires, winery operators say the solution is simple.

“In order for us to heal, rebuild, revive, we need visitors to come back,” said Davies.

Many Napa Valley wineries do not sell their wines anywhere else but in the wineries, so Davies said it’s important people make the trip to wine country to take tours, reserve tastings, and buy bottles. 

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