By Kristie Sheppard
Although it’s been just five months since the fires, Sonoma County is beginning to recover. In Sonoma County alone, the wildfire killed 24 people and destroyed more than 7,000 homes and businesses. The blaze wiped out entire neighborhoods such as Fountain Grove and Coffey Park as well as businesses such as Willi’s Wine Bar and Paradise Ridge Winery.
As devastating and dramatic as the initial effects on wine country, the long-term impacts are just beginning. The availability of housing and high rents has always been a problem in northern California, but now with even fewer homes available, competition for housing is severe. Rebuilding homes will not be a quick process. Once a property is cleared for demolition, property owners still need to wait for insurance and then figure out how to rebuild. It will be years before homes are rebuilt and inhabitable.
With so many areas in the county under evacuation orders, businesses closed for up to three weeks during October, usually the busiest time of year for tourism to wine country. Hotels and restaurants are traditionally at full capacity during autumn, but this year was very different. Tasting rooms were empty, the best tables were available at restaurants that were open and hotel rooms were filled with evacuees.
The entire effect on the wine industry will remain unknown for years. A few wineries lost structures, tasting rooms and vineyards such as Paradise Ridge Winery and Korbin Kameron. Vineyard owners throughout the county in American Viticulture Areas such as Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma Valley, Bennett Valley, Carneros, Fountain Grove and Moon Mountain, lost vines to the fires. Those vines that did not burn are susceptible to smoke taint. Long-term damage from smoke on the vines will not be seen for years until the vintners produce wine from those grapes. Winemakers and consumers will just have to wait and see.
Sonoma County has experienced devastation before, and as always, has come together to rebuild by helping those who have lost their homes, businesses and loved ones. Countless people have donated to short- and long-term relief funds, residents have opened their homes to evacuees and organizations have banded together to provide food, clothes, shelter and essentials to those who need it most. Although the wildfire’s impact remains, the positive outcome of this tragedy is knowing the community’s generosity and kindness continues as well.