By Alexa Chipman October 14, 2017
The crush was interrupted on Monday morning by a spreading cloud of smoke and wildfires springing up around Sonoma County, sweeping through with such speed that many families had to escape without any belongings. In the resulting cacophony of reports, rumors spread that the Glen Ellen Village Market was in flames and Chateau St. Jean had burned to the ground. Panic set in with fire visible in the hills, causing clogged roads and false stories due to the lack of access for compiling accurate reports. Nearby hotels filled with evacuees, while others fled to relatives, friends, co-workers, or shelters; the adventurous drove to campgrounds that were out of immediate danger to spend the night.
Desperate pleas filled Twitter with requests for horse trailers to move large animals, or photos of pets left behind. This week has seen my beloved home turned into a post-apocalyptic landscape with the feel of Pompeii in eerie glowing hillsides and ash falling from the sky like snow. The air is filled with the sound of airplanes, bulldozers, and sirens. Convoys of police cars fill the highways, some coming all the way from Orange County to help. I went to the grocery store this morning—outside a tanker was filling up from a fire hydrant on its way to the nearest inferno, and those not wearing masks had bandanas pulled up over their noses like an old western film.
Through it all, signs are springing up across Sonoma valley “the love in the air is thicker than smoke” and social media has been using a quote from Game of Thrones, referring to Sonoma’s symbol, “fire cannot kill a dragon.” Despite the horror, wineries are finding ways to push through the situation, using traditional and creative ways to continue working. Mayo Family Winery, known for their fantastic range of wines, joined with the Berthoud family for an old fashioned grape stomp on Tuesday, after their power went out.
Mayo Family Winery carries on without power. Photo by Jeffrey Mayo.
Most vineyards were almost done with harvest, but grapes had to be abandoned during the evacuation. Deerfield Ranch had 15 tons of syrah on the vines, drying out and pummeled by high winds. They describe the community coming together, like helping Dan Sanchez of Alpicella Vineyard to save his sangiovese or Dave Osmundson assisting GlenLyon Winery with their cabernet. Volunteers from VJB Cellars and Wellington Cellars were staffing a donation center, and wineries found themselves inundated with support and concern for the well being of winemakers and their families. Early in the week, a tradition began to post photographs of dinner wines from the Sonoma area in solidarity from around the world.
Tonight, the majority of local wineries have survived, but it is far from over, with the hillsides ablaze and one shift in the wind putting them back into danger. Firefighters are heroes to locals, who describe them as the “cavalry” and pour out gratefulness for their help. Hamel Family Wines reported “a single brave firefighter here at the winery throughout the night as the fires burned closer” side by side with the family. Despite damage to the property and vineyards, their buildings survived as of Thursday. Korbin Kameron calls the Mayacamas Volunteer Fire Department “nothing short of inspiring” in their efforts to protect the community.
The row of wineries Valley of the Moon at Madrone Estate, Little Vineyards Family Winery and B.R. Cohn remain safe, as fires burn on the surrounding hills. After losing power, Madrone tracked down a generator on Friday to get temporarily back up and running, but billowing smoke and flames still threaten nearby. Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Vineyards, Korbin Kameron and Paradise Ridge Winery received heavy damage. Minor burning afflicted Chateau St. Jean, Kenwood Vineyards, Hamel Family Wines and La Rochelle Winery who will need time to restore their properties. Mercifully historic downtown Glen Ellen businesses have survived; Gaige House has minor debris and a fence knocked down, and Olea Hotel had its front cottages destroyed, but the main building survived.
Fire on the ridge above Hamel Family Wines on October 12.
The ordeal is far from over, and nerves are frayed from living away from home or without power and gas, but the sense of community has not wavered. Restaurants have been generous—cooking food and making deliveries to evacuees. A volunteer described the displaced as kind-hearted and patient, with a positive approach to the situation, despite losing everything. We will get through this together; as the hashtags state, #glenellenstrong #kenwoodstrong.
The Rotary of Sonoma Valley club is coordinating delivery of services, goods and funds for victims, evacuees, and first responders with a focus on youth.
Heart of the Vine
Established by Vintage Wine Estates, it is a fund for immediate gift cards to distribute to employees, families, and first responders who lost their homes and need the basics to get started.
Transcendence Theatre’s Rise Up & Recover
100% of the proceeds from this campaign will go to support fire victims, evacuees and first responders. The need is only beginning.
Do not simply donate items that you think might help; always check with an organization before dropping off. The situation is changing rapidly, a food bank might desperately need canned goods in the morning, but be full by the afternoon. The best is always monetary donations, because that can be used more flexibly as needed and does not require storage space.