Napa County’s Carneros wine world received an unwelcome, temporary designation in early October – wildfire country.
The Partrick Fire – later called the Nuns Fire—roared through the northern Carneros. It did some of its worst damage near the border of Napa and Sonoma counties, where it destroyed an abandoned landmark, Stornetta dairy, torched a few homes and a senior care facility, blackened the landscape and raised general havoc.
Now the fire is gone and Carneros is back to being wine country. Such features as the Carneros Resort and Spa, Stanly Lane pumpkin patch and the Domaine Carneros chateau remain untouched and miles of vineyards and wineries are intact.
But, while much of the region is unburnt, the fire-scarred view from Artesa winery, the Lee Hudson ranch and di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art provides a stark reminder of close calls on the nightmare night of Oct. 8.
“It’s definitely something that is emotional for people to look at when they come out and see how close the fire came to us,” said Susan Sueiro, president of Artesa.
Artesa is open for business on its hilltop perch off narrow Henry Road which runs up Carneros Valley. The post-fire difference is that the winery’s sweeping views of the Carneros now include a blackened Milliken Peak a short distance to the northwest.
The Partrick Fire rode strong north winds, burning along the southern edge of the Mayacamas Mountains to Henry Road and the 350-acre Artesa property.
“It entered our vineyards,” Sueiro said. “Thankfully, it stopped short of the winery and the winery was untouched.”
The fire burned up to the pavement of the parking lot. That’s how close it came to a unique winery structure with a covering of native grasses and a newly remodeled tasting room.
Grape harvesting had finished and Artesa still had electrical power. The winery kept producing wine in the days after the fire, Sueiro said.
Whether any of Artesa’s chardonnay and pinot noir vines are harmed remains to be seen. Sueiro said the fire entered two vineyard blocks and melted irrigation lines. The winery is still evaluating how fruitful those vines might be.
“But overall, we are extremely lucky,” Sueiro said.
North winds carried the fire to the nearby, 217-acre property for the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art. The late Rene and Veronica di Rosa assembled a collection of contemporary Bay Area art that is displayed on the property.
Di Rosa bills itself as “a refuge” to view art and has three galleries and a trail winding through a meadow with sculptures. The fire spared the galleries, but burned all around the red, outdoor sculpture of steel beams called “For Veronica,” leaving a black grime on its surface.
For now, di Rosa is closed for damage assessment. Heavy smoke that went into the galleries might mean paintings will need cleaning and indoor air quality needs improvement. But most of the art collection is housed offsite.
“The big, big picture is di Rosa is blessed,” Executive Director Robert Sain said.
Tours are canceled through the end of the year. However, di Rosa is planning a free Nov. 16 event with art activities, wine and music at one of its galleries as an initial reopening after the fires.
An exhibit scheduled to open on Nov. 4 called “Be Not Still: Living in Uncertain Times” has been delayed until Jan. 27. For Napa County, these have been uncertain times, indeed.
Nearby, Lee Hudson’s ranch covers 2,000 acres, with 200 acres in vines. He sells grapes, makes wine, grows vegetables and has lambs and pigs. Hudson Greens and Goods sells produce at Oxbow Public Market.
Much of the ranch burned, but the only building lost from the farm complex near vineyards and a pond was a garage.
“We were very fortunate,” Hudson said. “We were really in the epicenter of the fire. We have a neighbor who lost quite a bit. It was horrific.”
He wasn’t home the night of the fire, which he counts as lucky, because he might have tried to fight the blaze. He saw the fire results the next morning at about 6 a.m.
“Everything around my house except for the house burned,” Hudson said. “It was shocking to see when we returned.”
Hudson credits the vineyards as saving much of the property by acting as a buffer. Livestock survived. But the fire took a toll on the wildlands.
“It certainly did horrible damage to the forest,” Hudson said. “I think the fire was very, very hot. It will certainly be interesting to see it recover.”
Hudson in October 2015 received county Planning Commission approval to build a 9,238-square-foot winery that can produce up to 80,000 gallons annually. The fire didn’t destroy the construction that is underway. Hudson said the winery should be completed in July.
By then, he expects his property will look different.
“A little bit of rain will turn everything bright green, rather than black,” he said. “In a month, it will be remarkably different looking. While it’s been a horrific and frightening thing, it’s a natural thing.”
The Carneros region is located in both southern Napa and Sonoma counties and received its American Viticultural Area designation in 1983. Burn maps posted by Napa County and CalFire show the damage from the Partrick/Nuns fire.
In Napa County’s Carneros, 13 structures were destroyed and four were damaged. In Sonoma County, about three dozen structures were destroyed and another dozen damaged, with 15 of these structures part of the Stornetta dairy at the corner of Highway 121/12 and Napa Road. Many other structures were destroyed just outside of the official Carneros border.
Next to photos of lost loved ones sat skeleton figurines dancing, kissing and drinking. Brightly colored paper flowers surrounded the person’s favorite food, favorite drinks and, in some cases, favorite toys.
This was the scene of the altar exhibition at El Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, celebration at Harvest Middle School on Saturday.
“My favorite part of the Day of the Dead celebration is that we get to celebrate loved ones who’ve passed away,” said Sofia Salazar, 8. Sofia has been interested in the Day of the Dead for as long as she can remember.
“I really do like Mexican traditions,” she said. She even painted a sugar skull design on her face just for the occasion.
“Who do we celebrate in our house?” asked Sofia’s mom, Berta Delgado.
“It was my grandma … she died before I was born,” the painted-face girl replied. “I’ve always been wondering about what it would be like to see her.”
In order to remember Sofia’s grandmother, the family makes altars for her. The altar will include things her grandmother liked.
“We make everything – we don’t buy nothing,” said Connie Mena with OLE Health. Mena said that it took about two weeks for her and her friend, Margarita Lopez, to make the organization’s altar.
The women decorated the altar with “Catrina” dolls – skeletons dressed as women. Mena said that each doll represented a different woman including a bride, a widow, a rich woman, and a cabaret dancer. One was fashioned in the style of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.
“It’s a lot of work,” Mena said, but she sees it as a type of therapy. Mena said that she volunteers with OLE Health to provide art therapy to mental health patients.
“We really enjoy looking at the decor,” said Nayely Rueda who was strolling through the altar exhibit with her husband, Jose, and their children.
“It brings back memories from when we used to live in Mexico,” Jose Rueda said. The Day of the Dead celebration also gives parents an opportunity to pass on the culture and the traditions to their children, he said. “Tell them what they’re for (the altars) and the meaning of it.”
Miguel and Sarah Gutierrez were hoping to expose their children to the culture, too, in addition to enjoying the food, music and dancing.
“My wife does a good job trying to buy books that are Mexican heritage based,” Miguel Gutierrez said. Although they try to speak both English and Spanish to their daughters, the only other big exposure they get to Mexican culture, he said, is on “big family holidays.”
Juan Diaz, the organizer of El Día de Los Muertos celebration, started the Napa event more than 15 years ago after his father died because there wasn’t anything like it nearby at the time. The event is now hosted in collaboration with the Napa Valley Latino Heritage Committee.
Traditional Aztec dancers Danzantes Aztecas Nanahuatzin, singer Icela Martin, Ballet Folklorico del Valle de Santa Helena, Ballet Folklorico Quetzalli de American Canyon, and Los Diablos Oaxaquenos del valle de Napa were all scheduled to perform outside in the school’s courtyard Saturday.
The altars will continue to be on display in the gymnasium between 1-5 p.m. Sunday.
Reynolds Family Winery first survived a close brush with the Atlas Fire and then successfully concluded a three-year attempt to secure higher wine production and visitor caps from the county.
The Atlas Fire that started Oct. 8 menaced the 13-acre property along Silverado Trail near Soda Canyon Road. It ended up singeing an oak tree and sparing the winery and home.
That meant Steve and Suzie Reynolds still had a business to grow. On Wednesday, they won expansion approvals from the Napa County Planning Commission after spending more than $100,000 and three years on the effort.
Consultant Donna Oldford said it will cost more than $1 million to retrofit the winery to meet current codes and requirements. One expense will be adding a left-turn lane on Silverado Trail.
“This process is not for the faint of heart,” Oldford said.
Reynolds Family Winery received approval to increase wine production from 20,000 gallons annually to 40,000 gallons annually. It can expand weekly visitation from 60 people to 280 people. It can increase annual marketing events from three to 54.
The winery made the requests after being notified by the county in 2014 that it was violating its use permit.
Reynolds broke its 20,000 gallon annual production cap by averaging 23,500 gallons from 2010-2012. It broke its 60-person-a-week visitation cap by having anywhere from 49 to 384 visitors, a county report said.
Steve Reynolds described how he had been a dentist who sold everything to start a winery. Napa County has grown over the past 20 years and in his own life, amid changing diapers, taking kids to school, driving a tractor and making wine, he didn’t notice that tasting room visitors had exceeded the cap.
For three years, the winery has “pretty much been in jail,” complying with the permit numbers while working with the county, he said. Meanwhile, such expenses as cork and glass have risen.
Oldford said the owners depend on tours and tastings to build the wine club. Wine clubs are critical for wineries of this size, she said.
Reynolds called the tasting room the winery’s link to the world.
“Our goal is to be the best world-class, small family winery,” he told commissioners. “But we want to show our wares. The farmer needs the farmers market. Help us little guys survive. That’s all we’re asking today.”
Planning Commissioners said they appreciated the winery owning up to the code violations. Then they discussed how to respond.
“It shouldn’t be punitive,” Commissioner Michael Basayne said. “We definitely want to work with applicants who try to work with the county.”
Commissioner Terry Scott said small family wineries are the best part of Napa’s past and will be the best part of its future. The county must support to the degree possible efforts by such wineries to succeed.
“Government is here to help, in my mind,” Scott said.
Commissioner Anne Cottrell had a concern that caused her to cast the lone dissenting vote.
“I wouldn’t suggest this commission act punitively,” Cottrell said. “I don’t see a reason to do that. But I’m not quite comfortable approving visiting and marketing levels which are twice what the comparable wineries would have.”
The county created a comparison chart with 14 wineries that produce 35,000 gallons to 45,000 gallons annually. The average tasting room visitation cap is 6,213 people annually, compared to the 14,560 requested by Reynolds. The average annual marketing visitors cap is 691, compared to 1,901 requested by Reynolds.
Cottrell said she was concerned about setting a new standard for visitation intensity.
“It is so important to our community that small wineries succeed,” Cottrell said. “But it’s also critical that their path to success is a sustainable one and mindful to others to follow.”
Commission Chairwoman Jeri Gill said the commission has stressed it wants applicants to do long-term planning when they request visitation caps, so they don’t return to the commission every few years asking for more. She saw the Reynolds numbers as being in that spirit.
The county has also expressed concern about water use for an expanded Reynolds Family Winery operation, given that the winery is located in an area that has experienced groundwater problems. Reynolds owners responded by proposing to use slightly less water than today.
“The question is, how can you do more and use less?” Public Works Director Steven Lederer said. “Their answer is increased efficiencies, primarily in the vineyards.”
He doesn’t care how Reynolds achieves the savings, Lederer said. The county will establish a water use cap and the winery must place meters on the wells. If the winery exceeds its allotment, Public Works will notify the Planning Commission, he said.
Reynolds Family Winery is located at 3266 Silverado Trail northeast of the city of Napa. The approval includes a 2,266-square-foot addition to the winery, for a total of 12,975 square feet.