After the catastrophic October fires in California wine country, the hubby and I went to the region expecting to see utter devastation. It turns out we were looking for the wrong thing.

It’s hard not to expect the worst when blazing images and reports of destruction are all we see for days. As mentioned in my post, Let’s Go to Sonoma and Napa, we’d seen video of a hotel – the hotel we originally planned to stay at – burn down to the ground.

As we begin our travels, all we know for sure is that the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference we are attending is forging ahead. It will be incredible to finally meet the wine writers and bloggers I know through Twitter! Arriving in California prior to the conference enables us to spend a couple of days in Sonoma and Napa. As we drive into downtown Napa, it appears the same as we recall from our last visit several years ago. A sense of relief washes over us, lulling us into believing that maybe things aren’t so bad after all.

Signs in Sonoma Plaza

The next day we head to Sonoma to begin our day in the historic Sonoma Plaza. Along the way we pass a burnt shell of a car and cinders of a house. My heart feels as though it has stopped. We notice that some of the hills have a blackened appearance. Then we see signs posted by businesses and residents thanking all the first responders. Reading the signs gives me pause; the messages are both heart breaking and moving. Shops, restaurants, and wineries are open for business, but it’s not business as usual.

We head to the Passagio Wines tasting room in picturesque Vine Alley just off the Sonoma Square. I recognize the winery name because Cindy Cosco, the owner/winemaker, had participated in a wine chat on Twitter for the Pink Society (it’s for those of us who love rosé and yes it’s a real thing!). A lovely setting awaits and we enjoy a relaxing wine tasting and purchase some Merlot. That’s right, we bought California Merlot, and it’s spectacular!

Moving on, Gundlach Bundschu tops our must-visit list. The winery reportedly burned down. Yet, their posts on social media state, “still standing strong” with regular detailed updates.

Gundlach Bundschu

We begin a cave tour by reviewing a detailed fire map that explains the series of events following the start of the fire. We hear about the torrential winds driving the flames further and further along a path of destruction.Outside we can see how the vineyard served as a fire break – the scorched earth runs the perimeter of the vineyard and stops right at the vines. We hear how in the face of adversity the winemaking team continues their work in the cellar, firefighters are given access to the winery’s reservoir to dump water on the flames, employees of the winery stay in touch via a Facebook group, and the winery posts status reports on social media. Gundlach Bundschu is still standing strong indeed, with 6 generations of family history intact. We revel in the tour simultaneously sad and happy, place an order to have wine shipped home, and marvel at the resolve of these people to move forward.

The next day we set out to explore Napa Valley starting at The Last Bottle. With its tongue in cheek offers and incredible deals, it is one of my favorite email lists for wine offers. Set in a warehouse near the Napa airport, it too is unaffected by the fires. Or so it seems. At the time of our visit, the owner and his family are still living in a hotel while they wait to return home. Mind you, he’s not complaining. We only find out because we ask if anyone at the business was directly impacted by the fires.

It turns out that, thankfully, fewer than five wineries in Napa suffered significant damage. We visit Frog’s Leap winery and confirm that the idyllic setting remains untouched from the recent fires. Except that there are fewer visitors than usual this time of year.

Wine Tasting at Frog’s Leap Winery in Napa

We pack up and move on to a pre-conference excursion in Lodi wine country. Although the region wasn’t directly damaged by fire, we hear people in the wine industry talk about their their extended wine family and express their concern. We learn that many of the wine grapes grown in Lodi are normally transported to Napa after being harvested. However, they weren’t able to transport grapes during the catastrophe and had to find other locations to begin to process the fruit elsewhere.

Moving on to Santa Rosa for the Wine Bloggers Conference, we know that this is a community deeply impacted by the fires. Yet, from the hotel that is our home for three days, we don’t witness any devastation other than what is shown to us during two sessions recapping the fires. That is, until the speed tasting rounds. We see a bottle for Paradise Ridge flash before us, and we are poured a taste. Then, we learn that the winemaking facility with all of the wines in tank have been lost. The tasting room burned down. On-site dwellings decimated. But not to worry. The vines survived, and there will be future vintages. Past vintages were stored off–site, so there is still wine to sell. It’s all stated like it’s no big deal but wait, what?

Just like that, these incredible people are picking themselves up, dusting themselves off, rebuilding and recovering. We found resilience where we didn’t think much of anything would be left. Frankly, I don’t know how they muster up the strength. Yet I know the thing to do is lend a hand. I am honored to be part of a community that helped with some fundraising early on. Would you like to help the region’s recovery? Go to California Wine Country. It’s open for business and the hospitality is as glorious as ever. If you are unable to make a trip, open a bottle from the region. If you can, purchase direct from a winery online as that will have a greater positive impact on their bottom line. Or, contribute financially if you desire. As they say, “Water put out the fires. Wine helps ease the pain.”

Nancy Croisier is an enthusiastic advocate for exploring the world of wine. She holds the prestigious designation of Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) from the Society of Wine Educators, and has graduated from the Northwest Wine Academy with expert training in wine and food pairing, as well as wine sales and marketing. She specializes in bringing wine brands and consumers together. Follow Nancy’s wine and food adventures on Twitter and Instagram:  @NancyFeasts.