Northern California wineries slowly back to business after wildfires

"I don't know how many people are receptive of coming up to Napa Valley for wine tasting," vineyard owner Barry Waitte said.
By Ed Adamczyk Contact the Author   |  Oct. 18, 2017 at 11:30 AM
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Oct. 18 (UPI) -- As Northern California continues to deal with some of the worst wildfires in state history, vineyards in the region's famous wine country are slowly beginning to reopen -- at least the ones that weren't destroyed.

The majority of the annual grape harvest in Napa, Mendocino and Sonoma counties, where wineries are concentrated, occurred prior to the wildfires. Some grapes, though, still need to be picked, and affected counties and workers now require permits to enter the remaining vineyards to do the work.

"This is about life safety," said Napa County Agricultural Commissioner Greg Clark. "That's why we're putting this in place, to ensure both the people working on doing repairs are safe and to ensure the workers or anyone going up in the areas are safe."

Several wineries have reported varying damage to buildings, tasting rooms and vines.

"So far, we think our fruit that is still out is OK. But we'll keep our eyes on it," Barry Waitte, owner of Tamber Bey Vineyards in Calistoga, said.

"It is the biggest month of the year for us, and we're completely shut down on the visitation ... I don't know how many people are receptive of coming up to Napa Valley for wine tasting."

Some wineries have opened this week, and some say visitors have been slowly returning. Other vineyards are not so fortunate.

The Signorello Estate, Paradise Ridge, Frey Vineyards, Helena View Johnston, Oster Cellars, Segassia, Sill Family and Partland Estate Vineyards Wineries were completely destroyed by the fires. Another, White Rock Vineyards, which is one of the oldest wineries in Napa County, was said to be destroyed but the family owners later said its buildings and vineyards survived mostly intact.

Last week, experts said the wildfires could cause long-lasting effects for Northern California wineries, which are estimated to contribute nearly $60 billion to California's economy each year.

Evacuation orders have been lifted in many areas, but fires still burn across the region. The Pocket Fire has charred over 12,000 acres in Sonoma County and was only 58 percent contained Tuesday, Cal Fire said.

Classes also resume Wednesday at Sonoma State University, which was closed for a week.

The devastating fires have caused 41 deaths so far and an estimated $3 billion in property damage. They have burned more than 220,000 acres and damaged or destroyed at least 5,700 structures, including many homes.

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