Sonoma County from the Ashes

I'm one of the lucky ones
Sonoma County from the Ashes
The California wildfires have devastated the Sonoma County town of Santa Rosa. (Gabrielle Lurie/Polaris)
Oct 14, 2017

Serene becomes surreal faster than you think.

Sunday, Oct. 8, was a pleasant day in Sonoma County. Harvest was winding down. Dry leaves shuffled like cards in the trees as the wind picked up late in the day. After dinner in Sonoma, my wife and I drove north, back home to Santa Rosa, just before 10 p.m.

The winds as we drove were stronger than any I'd experienced in my nearly 30 years living here. Highway 12 north toward Kenwood was a minefield of tree limbs and debris, and as we approached Pagani Ranch, far off in the mountains to the east, we saw the first signs of the Nuns fire.

My daughter called later. Her husband is a second-generation firefighter born in Sonoma Valley, now working in San Francisco. I walked outside as we were talking and saw an ominous glow scowling beyond the mountains to the north of us, a different fire from the one we saw in Kenwood.

As we hastily packed, the power blinked out, and we rushed to our cars and drove to a safe place.

That was just the beginning of the Northern California wildfires that have been scorching Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lake Counties and beyond. I've spent the week on edge, and believe me, I was lucky. My son is a freshman in college and 10 of his best friends lost everything. Nearly 6,000 Sonoma County homes and businesses are now ash; many of those folks have jobs related to the wine industry.

The devastated neighborhood you've seen most often on TV is Santa Rosa's Coffey Park. My family lived there for five years. It was a middle-class neighborhood, and my kids rode their bikes there. They trick-or-treated there, and we walked along with wineglasses that were often filled at a friendly house.

Our old house survived, as did nearby warehouse wineries like Carol Shelton and Siduri. But again, amid loss of this scope, luck feels shallow.

Santa Rosa, a city of nearly 180,000, has been my adopted hometown for decades. We live in the eastern outskirts of the city, just a few miles from the Sonoma Valley wine region. I drive through Kenwood so often that the beauty of the place was often lost on me. The fire has reportedly taken a huge toll there and in nearby Glen Ellen.

Sonoma's wine and food community has stepped up. Native boy Guy Fieri—yeah, he's really a decent guy—brought in his food troops to feed responders and the newly homeless. Restaurants like Zazu in Sebastopol and Valette in Healdsburg unselfishly supplied food.

Living in the heart of this disaster, it has been difficult as an old-school journalist to think about wine seriously. I worked at the local paper years ago and have admired the reporting and photography of old friends; and I'm also proud of the focus and dignity of Wine Spectator's coverage.

In the end, it has to be about people. And for me, that's my son-in-law, Nick. His family has been in Sonoma Valley for generations; he has been on the frontlines of the fire in Sonoma Valley since early Monday.

Godspeed Nick, and come home safe.

More California Fires 2017

See More

California Wineries Sue Insurers over Smoke-Tainted Wines

Jan 17, 2020

Wine-Country Wildfire Recovery Benefit Raises Over $3.4 Million

Dec 4, 2017

California Fires: Upcoming Charity Benefits and Happenings

Nov 14, 2017

Star Chefs Rally to Benefit California Wildfire Relief Efforts

Nov 14, 2017

Understanding Smoke Taint

Nov 3, 2017

Disasters Fires United States California Sonoma California Fires 2017 News

You Might Also Like

The French Laundry Launches Lavish Indoor-Dining Experience

The French Laundry Launches Lavish Indoor-Dining Experience

The Napa Grand Award winner’s new offering features coveted Champagne and opulent add-ons …

Sep 24, 2020
Sonoma County Wine Auction Raises $1.17 Million with Online Bidding

Sonoma County Wine Auction Raises $1.17 Million with Online Bidding

The wine country charity auction forged ahead with a virtual event, auctioning exclusive …

Sep 23, 2020
Zachys Auctions Rare Wines from Italy's Enoteca Pinchiorri

Zachys Auctions Rare Wines from Italy's Enoteca Pinchiorri

The 2,500-bottle consignment from the Grand Award–winning restaurant fetched $4.1 million, …

Sep 22, 2020
'Drink the Best in House Arrest' Wins Wine Spectator's 2020 Video Contest

'Drink the Best in House Arrest' Wins Wine Spectator's 2020 Video Contest

The Campione family members get their first win, and share the inspiration for their …

Sep 22, 2020
Vintner Diego Planeta, Who Helped Put Sicilian Wine on the Map, Dies at 80

Vintner Diego Planeta, Who Helped Put Sicilian Wine on the Map, Dies at 80

As head of a vintners' cooperative and later as founder of his family winery, Planeta …

Sep 21, 2020
His Dream Is Now Ours: Legendary Vineyard Manager Ulises Valdez Sr.'s Children Carry on His Legacy

His Dream Is Now Ours: Legendary Vineyard Manager Ulises Valdez Sr.'s Children Carry on His Legacy

In vineyards across Sonoma and at Valdez Family Wines, Valdez Sr.'s widow and four children …

Sep 18, 2020