For our most up-to-date coverage of this story, see "Northern California Vintners Assess Wildfire Damage," updated Oct. 20. For additional coverage, see our Oct. 13 and Oct. 11 updates, and "Damage Updates from Wineries."
Updated Oct. 17, 8:30 a.m. PST: More evacuation orders have been lifted in Sonoma County, as firefighters continue to increase containment of the wildfires. Residents of Geyserville and Healdsburg and several additional neighborhoods in Sonoma and Santa Rosa were allowed to return to their homes late Monday afternoon. As of Tuesday morning, the Nuns fire in Sonoma and Napa counties had burned nearly 53,000 acres of land, but crews had managed to increase containment to 68 percent. South of San Francisco, other fire crews were dealing with new wildfires in the Santa Cruz mountains. At least 41 people have died as a result of the fires.
Updated Oct. 16, 1:00 p.m. PST: In Sonoma County, evacuation orders were lifted on Monday afternoon for Kenwood and Glen Ellen, where the Nuns fire had burned. Earlier in the day, evacuation orders had been lifted for Calistoga and parts of Santa Rosa and Sonoma. Fire crews report significant progress in containing the wildfires over the weekend, thanks to low winds, but conditions will remain hot and dry for the next two days.
Updated Oct. 15, 12:00 p.m. PST: Part of the Pulido-Walker estate, on the southern edge of the Mount Veeder appellation, was confirmed damaged in the Oct. 9 fire. In a statement sent to Wine Spectator today, proprietors Donna Walker and Mark Pulido said their 15-acre vineyard appears to have only suffered partial damage, but the flames destroyed their home and gardens.
Updated Oct. 15, 10:00 a.m. PST: While on Saturday firefighters were able to hold off flames from the town of Calistoga in Napa Valley and increase containment of three of the largest blazes, Tubbs, Atlas and Redwood/Potter, the Nuns fire in Sonoma County continued to grow and burned houses in the town of Sonoma.
Updated Oct. 14, 2:00 p.m. PST: Reports are coming in from Mount Veeder confirming damage caused earlier by the Nuns fire that has been approaching Oakville and Rutherford. Segassia Vineyard owner Andrew Cates believes that not much may be left after the fire tore through his 15-acre vineyard and cellar, where his library wines are stored, on Tuesday night.
Updated Oct. 14, 12:00 p.m. PST: Flames of the Nuns fire are visible from the famed To Kalon vineyard. A source tells Wine Spectator that the fire is on a ridge above Oakville and Rutherford, but helicopters are aggressively dropping water on it.
Updated Oct. 14, 10:00 a.m. PST: Evacuation orders were issued in parts of the Sonoma County towns of Santa Rosa and Sonoma early Saturday morning as winds picked up and began to push the Nuns fire to the west. The fire has also been threatening parts of Oakville on Napa Valley's western side since Friday. State officials believe they are beginning to contain the Tubbs and Atlas fires but are concerned, as gusty winds are forecast to continue today.
Tuesday, more than a week after the deadliest wildfires in California's modern history began, brought a mix of hope and despair to residents of the state's northern wine regions. Cooler temperatures and low winds had allowed firefighters to increase containment of several fires in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. But while some residents are returning to find their homes survived, others are finding devastation. And the danger has not passed. New blazes broke out in the Santa Cruz mountains, south of San Francisco, on Monday night.
Evacuation orders were lifted on Monday for residents of Geyserville and Healdsburg and several additional neighborhoods in Sonoma and Santa Rosa, a day after orders were lifted for Calistoga in northern Napa Valley and parts of Santa Rosa in Sonoma County. Residents of Kenwood, Glen Ellen and parts of the city of Sonoma were also allowed back into their homes. Many of those returning are advised to boil their water for now.
Firefighters have made great strides in controlling both the Tubbs fire, which had burned more than 36,000 acres, including wineries and entire neighborhoods in Santa Rosa, and the Nuns fire, which had burned nearly 53,000 acres in Napa and Sonoma and threatened both Santa Rosa and the town of Sonoma. As of Tuesday, Tubbs was 82 percent contained and Nuns was 68 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (Cal Fire).
The Atlas fire, which has burned more than 51,000 acres in Napa and Lake Counties, is now 77 percent contained. In Mendocino County, the Redwood fire, which merged with the smaller Potter fire, has burned 35,000 acres and was 60 percent contained as of Tuesday morning.
Even more promising, winds remain low, giving firefighting crews time to organize containment efforts. Red-flag warnings were lifted Sunday afternoon. And rain is in the forecast for Thursday and Friday.
But as of Tuesday morning, 41 people are confirmed dead. At least 22 people have died in Sonoma County, eight in Mendocino County, seven in Napa County and four in Yuba County. Early Monday morning, a fire truck overturned on the Oakville Grade in Napa Valley, killing the driver.
The fires have expanded to more than 213,000 acres since they began the night of Sunday, Oct. 8. More than 6,500 homes and buildings have burned, including at least eight wineries. More than 100,000 people have evacuated and dozens remain missing.
The Paramenter family, owners of VinRoc winery on Atlas Peak Road, confirmed that the winery's main house and guesthouse were destroyed in the Atlas fire, along with equipment sheds and a barn. “The good news is that the cave was not damaged and the wine barrels inside the cave weren’t harmed," the family said in a statement. "The vineyard was only partially damaged. Most of our case goods are sitting in a warehouse far from the fire. So while we had some loss, VinRoc is alive and well.”
Others were luckier. Shafer Vineyards was just downhill from the Atlas flames. "On Monday morning the dry scrub above the hillside vineyards, which were already picked, burned," said Andy Demsky of Shafer. "But the winery, [owner] John Shafer's house, and the wines in production were all spared. Like most of the valley, the winery didn't have power for a few days, but our generator kept operations in the cellar running without a hitch."
The biggest concern in wine country in recent days was the Nuns fire, which has merged with some smaller fires. Early Saturday morning, the winds began to blow toward the southwest, moving the Nuns fire toward the eastern neighborhoods of Santa Rosa and Sonoma, as well. A new hot spot flared up, hitting 550 acres around the Oakmont neighborhood in eastern Santa Rosa, near Highway 12, and forcing more people to flee. Flames were photographed on the slopes immediately above Ledson winery in Kenwood, with helicopters dropping water to try to stop it. The Oakmont fire was 15 percent contained on Monday morning.
In addition, state and local media outlets report that houses burned on the outskirts of the city of Sonoma, with some damage as close as a mile from Sonoma Plaza and the Spanish Mission.
The Nuns fire has burned parts of Glen Ellen and Kenwood in Sonoma and spread over Mount Veeder—where vintners are now reporting damage to their wineries and vineyards—into Napa Valley's west side. The fire tore through Segassia Vineyard’s 15-acre vineyard and cellar on the top of the mountain. “Fingers crossed, but I’m not optimistic that anything is left,” said owner Andrew Cates. He had to evacuate, but a neighbor across the street had a security camera that recorded the flames as they rushed through his vineyard on the night of Oct. 10. “It’s been extremely sad.”
Cates sells his grapes to Nicholson Jones and previously to Hall Winery, whose Segassia Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon has scored 95 points and higher. Cates purchased the vineyard in 2012 and had just replanted two blocks of vines six weeks before the fires struck. “I’m going to have to replant a lot more vines,” he said. He also lost verticals of Segassia wines dating back to 2006. But Cates isn’t giving up. “It’s a special place, and my plan is to rebuild,” he says.
The same fire claimed part of Pulido-Walker’s estate on the southern edge of the Mount Veeder appellation. In a statement sent to Wine Spectator Oct. 15, proprietors Donna Walker and Mark Pulido said their 15-acre vineyard appears to have only suffered partial damage, but the flames destroyed their home and gardens on Oct. 9. “Fortunately, our family and the Pulido-Walker team are all safe,” the statement reads. Their winemaking is done in St. Helena and their wines are stored offsite; two other Napa Valley vineyards from which they source grapes are still unharmed. The couple says they plan to rebuild.
Late Friday afternoon, reports came that the Nuns fire was moving toward Oakville and that an advisory evacuation was issued for people west of Highway 29. The area is home to well-known names like Harlan Estate and Inglenook.
"We all face much uncertainty," said Don Weaver, executive director of Harlan Estate, on Friday. "[On Thursday] night, the fire crested Mt. St. John to the immediate north of our assets in Oakville, and there are still flames in the Dry Creek area, close to our western boundaries. We are doing all that we can and are watching nervously, hoping for containment."
Tom Garrett of Detert Family Vineyards confirmed Saturday morning that fires were still inching toward Oakville. "[There's a] big fire just north of Rutherford," he told Wine Spectator. "The fire is coming down the west side [of Oakville], directly on to To Kalon [vineyard]. But the helicopters are there making laps [and drawing water] from the Mondavi reservoir. Very thankful for the helicopters." Garrett reported back Saturday afternoon that fire crews appeared to be making progress.
At least eight wineries have been confirmed significantly or totally damaged—five in Napa, including Patland Vineyards, Roy Estate, Signorello Estate and White Rock Vineyards; Sonoma's Paradise Ridge Vineyards and Mendocino's Frey Vineyards and Backbone Vineyard & Winery. Another 11 in Napa, including Stags' Leap Winery, have reported to the Napa Valley Vintners that they have some damage to the winery, other buildings or vineyards. So far, 160 of the group's 500 members have reported in. Sonoma and Mendocino are still tallying damage reports.
Resources continue to flood into the region from throughout California and neighboring states to battle the blazes. According to Cal Fire, more than 11,000 firefighters were on the lines Monday morning.
Where the fires go next and how quickly crews can bring them under control is largely due to one key factor: wind. The Oct. 8 and 9 firestorms were stoked by gusting and bone-dry northerly winds of almost 70 mph and dry vegetation resulting from the previous five years of drought. Saturday's gusts were closer to 30 mph, but still concerning.
Conditions are hot and very dry, providing plenty of fuel for the flames. Many roads were still closed in the region to allow fire crews access, including portions of the Silverado Trail and those in the Atlas Peak region of Calistoga, as well as Highway 12 in Sonoma Valley. That’s making it hard for vintners and residents to find out whether their buildings are still standing. Sonoma County began issuing limited permits for vintners to check on their grapes Monday. Wine Spectator will keep updating as we hear from more of them.
For more updates on how the region’s wineries are faring, see "California Fires: Damage Updates from Wineries."
With additional reporting by Aaron Romano, Augustus Weed, Tim Fish, Dana Nigro and Mitch Frank