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james laube's wine flights

A Smoky Weekend In Napa Valley

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Jun 23, 2008 5:12pm ET

I noticed a cloud of white puffy smoke rising to the east at about 6 p.m. on Saturday. I knew right away it was a fire. Too hot and windy for delta fog to be creeping over the hill into Napa.

It wasn’t clear where the fire was, since I was in Sonoma, which is west of Napa. But driving home that night at 11 p.m., it was apparent from the smoke and yellow hues tinting a nearly full moon that indeed there was fire. Probably a big one, and likely still going.

As I drove through Carneros, the bends and turns of the highway played tricks with my view. When I finally caught sight of the fire – a rather glorious golden burnt-orange glow of flames and white billowing smoke – it looked like it was in Carneros, and at one point I wondered if Domaine Carneros had caught fire. I drove past the winery, wondering if I’d driven past the fire. But a few moments later I saw the golden flames rising farther to the east, along what appeared to be the Napa-Solano county line.

Then the fire came into clearer view, but I still couldn’t tell exactly where it was. My old reporter's curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to drive until I could see exactly where the fire was. I took Old Sonoma Road to the top of the knoll near Truchard Vineyard. From there I could see the flames distinctly, raging along the hilltop where Napa Valley’s Coombsville and Wild Horse Valley areas turn into Solano’s Green Valley.

I saw many air tankers dropping fire retardant on the blaze. Napa is still smoky now. Fires are very tricky, of course, and with a drought, hot weather and gusting winds, firefighters have a nasty time battling blazes not only here, but throughout the state.

It seems that Napa Valley always makes for compelling news even when it might be bad news, as in a flood or fire. And when Napa’s in the news, wine is usually part of the story. As a rule, there’s not much to worry about when it comes to fire and vines; they don’t burn very easily. But for residents whose homes are threatened by a blaze, it is a terrifying experience.


Chris Haag
June 23, 2008 8:47pm ET
James, we experienced severe fires in the summer of 2003 in the Okanagan Valley. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and a few winery buildings as well. Not many vineyards were touched by fire but many of the wines were off that year as the fires started july/august just as all of the grapes were getting ready to ripen. Basically a smokey haze sat over prime vineyard land for the better part of a month. I hope for Napa's sake no ones homes are destroyed and the vines do not get affected by the smoke from the fires as the wine could taste off.
Harvey Posert
napa valley —  June 25, 2008 12:05pm ET
jim -- of course this was heaven marking the passing of bob mondavi of fume blanc fame.
Bradley Silva
Fresno, CA —  October 20, 2010 7:13pm ET
James: Are you tasting any smoke in the 2008s that are being released?
James Laube
Napa, CA —  October 20, 2010 7:20pm ET
Yes, just tried some yesterday from Rockpile in Sonoma that appeared to be overly smoky. A couple, too, from Anderson Valley...

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