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The COVID-19 Victory Garden at Hagafen Cellars
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The COVID-19 Victory Garden at Hagafen Cellars

From the Napa Valley Wine Insider Digest: July 31, 2020 series
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Although the grape harvest has not yet begun in Napa Valley, vintner Ernie Weir is already bringing crops at his Hagafen Cellars in Napa, and he is delivering them to the Napa Food Bank: bushels and pounds of vegetables.

“It’s spinning ashes into something positive,” Weir said as he walked between rows of corn, squash and tomatoes at the Silverado Trail winery.

He means ashes literally. During the Atlas Peak Fire of 2017, the metal winery didn’t burn, but flames burned grapevines on both the northern and southern vineyards, as well as a house on the property. Drip irrigation hoses “acted like candle wicks,” moving swiftly down the rows of vines. Weir said. In all, he estimates they lost about 2,400 vines.

They have replanted the 1,500 vines lost in northern vineyard, but “you can’t do it all at once,” he said. Turning to the southern vineyard, where they lost about 20 percent of the vines. They began removing the dead vines; some that were scorched still remain and produce grapes, although Weir noted the berries are smaller than usual and some of the canes are stunted. He plans to remove these and replant the vineyard by 2022.

Meanwhile, Weir said, “We ended up with a field that was open and empty.” As the COVID-19 pandemic began taking a toll on the valley earlier this year, Weir decided put the land to good use. “We decided to grow more vegetables than we normally do each year for our employees and friends,” he said. The land where vines once stood is now filled with towering rows of corn, alongside tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, squashes and watermelons.

The crops thrived. “We have an abundance — shall I say — a veritable bountiful harvest,” Weir said. “We have enough for ourselves and we are happy to offer our produce to any and all who are in need.” He began delivering produce to Community Action of Napa Valley Food Bank, which distributes free food at sites throughout the valley on a rotating weekly basis. So far, he said, they have donated about 200 pounds of vegetables.

It’s welcome help, said Shirley King, director of the CANV Food Bank. In March, when COVID-19 shutdowns began, King said the Food Bank went from serving 30 to 40 clients a day to more than 300. Since then the need has not abated. “We are moving 100,000 pounds of food a week, feeding 1,500 families,” she said. This week they had 385 clients in Calistoga and 319 in American Canyon.

“We are gearing up for the coming weeks,” King added. As the supplemental unemployment insurance payments and the moratorium on rental evictions expire at the end of July, she said, “this is going to cause a lot of stress. We are sure we will see an uptick in need.”

Because of COVID-19 precautions, they have had to put a hold on donations of shelf-stable items, canned and other packaged foods that transmit the virus and put recipients at risk. They have also had to cancel annual food drives, like the postal workers spring collection.

“We have had to find other sources of food,” King said. They can, however, accept and distribute produce.

“Some people plant a row for the Food Bank in their gardens each year,” she said.

This year, she added, the Food Bank was able to distribute seeds and seedlings to people to plant at their homes. “Planting gardens is one good thing that has come out of this difficult time,” she said.

Weir said as the summer bounty increases, their next step at Hagafen will be to open a farm stand. “As visitors return to taste wine, we hope they will support our endeavor,” Weir said. “It’s simple. You buy fresh vegetables to support the donation of fresh vegetables to those in need during the pandemic.”

Hagafen Cellars is open for outdoor tastings, in spaces separated by wicker screens where visitors can sit among flower gardens and fig and olive trees to taste Hagafen wines. Hagafen, which Weir founded in 1979, makes kosher wines that have been served at the White House.

Doing what they can to help the less fortunate members of the community, is “part of who are are, what we try to do,” Weir said. “We call it repairing the world.”

Hagafen Cellars is at 4160 Silverado Trail, Napa. Call 1-888-HAGAFEN (424-2336) or email visit@hagafen.com for more information.

Watch now: A look at a south Napa homeless camp

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Features Editor

Sasha Paulsen has been features editor at the Napa Valley Register since 1999. A graduate of Napa High School, she studied English at UC Berkeley and St. Mary's College and earned a Masters in Journalism from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

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