Sebastopol winery holds fundraiser for Sonoma County flood victims

Little more than a week after devastating floods, a fundraiser was held Friday night for Sonoma County flood victims. 

The event came together in just a few days, offering food and wine, live music, and some sorely needed fun. 

"This is so comforting, I haven't been able to do what I do," said cook Kendra Kolling, creating the artisan grilled cheese sandwiches she is best known for. 

The fundraiser was Kolling's first chance to cook for a crowd since floodwater invaded her cafe, The Farmers Wife. 

Dozens of businesses at Sebastopol's Barlow Shopping District filled with water and mud when a nearby watershed overflowed in heavy rain. 

"I lost refrigerators, griddles, filtered water system, dishwasher," said Kolling, ticking off the $100,000 worth of kitchen equipment that was submerged. 

But for one evening at least, her employees were working again, and she was feeding people and feeling loved.

"After I opened, I was able to do my dream for 148 days," Kolling told KTVU, "and I was lucky because some people don't have the opportunity to do their dream."

A few hundred people packed Horse & Plow Winery, on Gravenstein Highway. They crowded the tasting room and swayed to the trio playing on the patio. Twenty-five percent of wine sales will go to flood relief.

"It felt like we have to do something, ‘What are we going to do?’" said Suzanne Hagins, who founded the winery with Chris Condos in 2008. 

They agreed to the fundraiser immediately, and donations poured in, $15,000 worth of items for a silent auction. 

"After these disasters, everyone is feeling very powerless, but when you can get people together and get that goodwill, it's very powerful," said Hagins. 

The Nectary, a flood-damaged juice shop in the Barlow, was also offering its products at the event. 
Money raised will help victims in Sebastopol, and further west along the low Russian River, in flood-ravaged Guerneville and other communities.

"You don't know how much you can do until you know what you have," said Tim Miller, Executive Director of West County Community Services, beneficiary of the event. 

The money raised will be used to stabilize lives, and provide repairs so people can stay in their homes. 

"A water heater in the winter for $500 makes all the difference to a 75-year-old senior," said Miller. “So we're starting at those core essentials and then we'll move beyond that."

There was no admission price for the fundraiser; attendees donated any amount they chose, and many dug deep.

"I see a lot of spirit," said Michelle Cochrane, minding the cash box at the entrance. “I’'m amazed, stunned I actually don't have words for it."

Kendra Kolling remained at her hot grill until everyone was fed, still uncertain of what her future holds. 

"Should I open again at the Barlow?" she wondered aloud. 

Even though she is also a firestorm survivor, losing her Kenwood home in 2017, Kolling calls herself "the luckiest unlucky woman in the world".    

"This is comfort, it's familiar, it's my community, and it's what I do," she concluded.
Horse & Plow will continue to donate a quarter of all sales to West County Community Services through the weekend. 

Donations can be made at the non-profit agency's website, and all proceeds will go directly to people in need.