Napa and Sonoma valleys may be dozens of miles apart but smoke and images of the wildfire that started near Geyserville Oct. 23 has created challenges for the Napa Valley’s visitor industry.
Business founder Dario Sattui said that the number of visitors at his Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga had declined at least 50 percent recently.
“Today we had maybe 20 cars and we’d normally have 70 or 80,” said Sattui during a phone interview on Oct. 30.
“We’re taking some losses,” he said. “It really hurts. Still, we have to employ people.”
“People just aren’t coming” to Napa right now, Sattui said. Visitors associate “wine country” with both Napa and Sonoma valleys and when there’s a fire in either county, it deters visitors to both.
It reminds him of the Napa County wildfires from 2017, said Sattui. After those wildfires, business was down about 70 percent for several months, he said.
“We’ll survive,” but the news of the fires “will linger in people’s minds.”
“It’s going to take some time to come back.”
Sattui isn’t the only one hoping to woo visitors back to the valley.
Visit Napa Valley had a message for anyone considering coming to Napa Valley amidst PG&E blackouts: “You don’t need electricity to drink wine.”
As PG&E began restoring power two weeks ago, Visit Napa Valley advised “all visitors to confirm reservations directly.”
Potential visitors took to social media to assess just how welcoming the Napa Valley would be during national news reports of fires, evacuations and bad air.
“I’m supposed to be coming there this Friday curious if you are impacted at all by the fires — smoke or power outages?” Facebook user Kendra Ann wrote on the V. Sattui Winery Facebook page on Oct 29.
Sharon Cooke asked the same thing: “Are you impacted by the fires or power outages?”
“Heard about the fires,” wrote DeEtte Montalbano during the first of the safety outages on Oct. 10. “Can someone let us know what’s happening over there?”
A post on the Robert Mondavi Winery Facebook page on Oct. 9 noted that power was restored “and we are open for business! However, the winery phone lines and connectivity are down, so we are unable to answer calls or respond to emails at this time.”
On the same day, Trefethen Family Vineyards wasn’t quite as lucky.
“There are widespread power outages and we are thus unable to host any guests today,” the company wrote on its Facebook page.
The stakes are high for local businesses.
In Napa County, tourism ranks second only to the wine industry as a top employer.
The challenge, local tourism leaders say, has been crafting a promotional message that encourages visitors to return without reminding them about the October fire threat or the 2017 conflagration that killed at least 43 people, destroyed about 8,400 buildings and charred more than 245,000 acres.
“We have been trying to showcase what a beautiful spot this is,” said Linsey Gallagher, chief executive of Visit Napa Valley.
The 2017 fires made headlines and generated dramatic television footage across the country, but fewer than 20 of the 900 or so wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties suffered significant damage. Most restaurants, shops and hotels also survived unscathed and many of those that were damaged or destroyed have been rebuilt.
The latest visitation numbers and hotel occupancy rates suggest that some areas of the wine region have rebounded from the disaster, while others continue to suffer.
Napa County welcomed 3.8 million visitors in 2018, an 8.9% increase compared with 2016, while visitor spending rose 15.9% to $2.2 billion, according to an economic impact study released in May. Gallagher said her organization has not collected economic data for 2019 but anecdotal evidence suggests the business climate remains strong.
“That tells us that people are staying longer and spending more,” she said.
The LA Times contributed to this story.