One year and a day since his family’s winery was overtaken by flames, Ray Signorello stood before the vacant lot where last October the remains of Signorello Estates were still smoldering under a sickly orange sky. He was starting over.
Under clear skies Tuesday afternoon, Signorello and a mix of Napa leaders broke the first ground on the vintner’s new winery on the site where decades of his family’s work had been erased in a night.
Signorello was far from the winery that night, asleep in Vancouver, Canada.
A friend’s call woke him to say a fire was coming down Atlas Peak toward his winery on Silverado Trail. Dismissing the fire’s gravity at first, Signorello called Pierre Birebent, the estate’s winemaker. Driving down the Trail from St. Helena, Birebent quickly realized the situation was dire.
Bringing his team to the winery, Birebent and the group fought off the flames as long as they could. In the end, the fire won.
Gutted and charred, the winery immediately became the hapless face of wine country destruction as images of its singed rubble were broadcast across the world.
In the aftermath, Signorello vowed that his family would rebuild.
That promise began to take shape earlier this summer with the opening of a temporary tasting room steps away from where the former winery building stood. Tuesday’s groundbreaking brings the winery’s new chapter a step closer.
“We’re going to build everything we can as quickly as we can,” Signorello said, flanked by a pair of Caterpillars and donning a white hardhat. Among those beside him, wielding gold-plated shovels, were Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza; Linda Reiff, president and CEO of the Napa Valley Vintners, and Clay Gregory, president of Visit Napa Valley.
Reiff called the new winery’s groundbreaking an emblem for wine country. “It’s really a groundbreaking for all of our futures,” she said.
Thanking Signorello and his family for choosing to rebuild after the destruction, Pedroza quipped, “I checked on your permit. So hopefully we can get you approved and get you up soon.”
Gregory took the opportunity to stress that tourism in Napa Valley “did not die” in the wake of the fires. The valley had seen five new hotels open, along with 12 new tasting rooms and four new restaurants. “It’s alive and it’s well and visitors are coming back.”
While the fires destroyed Signorello’s winery building, there were a handful of silver linings, including a largely unharmed adjacent tank farm that held Signorello’s 2017 wines. Most of the estate’s decades-old vines also escaped the blaze unscathed.
“We lost our buildings, but now I get to create something with all that I’ve learned over the last 40 years in the wine business … and incorporate that into the future design,” he said. “And in a few years if all goes well, we’ll have the newest winery probably in Napa Valley and some of the oldest vines. That to me is our silver lining.”
Led by Taylor Lombardo Architects and Nordy Construction, the new winery’s construction is likely to take several years.