Fast-Moving Wildfires Erupt in Napa, Spread to Sonoma, Striking Another Blow to 2020 Harvest

St. Helena's Château Boswell has burned and Hourglass and Tuck Beckstoffer are among the wineries reporting extensive damage in the heart of Napa Valley; full extent of lost Cabernet crop remains unknown

Fast-Moving Wildfires Erupt in Napa, Spread to Sonoma, Striking Another Blow to 2020 Harvest
Château Boswell in St. Helena fell victim to Napa's Glass fire on Sept. 27. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
Sep 27, 2020

For more recent updates on the Glass Incident fires' damage to wineries and vineyards, read "Meadowood Resort, Newton Vineyard Among Napa Wildfire’s Many Victims."

Updated Sept. 28, 2020, 2:30 p.m. PDT

“Brutal” and “relentless” were the words one California winemaker used after receiving evacuation alerts early Sunday morning. The Glass fire, which ignited just before 4 a.m. Sept. 27 near the community of Deer Park, quickly spread to the eastern foothills between Calistoga and St. Helena in the heart of Napa Valley. There are now multiple fires burning in Napa and Sonoma, which have consumed a total of 11,000 acres, with 0 percent containment, according to the state agency Cal Fire.

St. Helena’s Château Boswell has fallen victim to the fire. Photos show the winery, which is just across the Silverado Trail from Rombauer winery and a mile north of Duckhorn, engulfed in flames on Sunday night.

Other wineries began reporting extensive damage on Monday morning. At Hourglass, which has holdings in St. Helena and Calistoga, ”It’s hard to say what the true damage is,” winemaker Anthony Biagi said. “The fire burned through our Blueline vineyard adjacent to Calistoga Ranch.” He reported that the wine in barrels in the winery’s caves will be safe, but that other structures on the property are presumed lost. “The upper eastern Napa Valley got hammered.”

“We saved the winery last night, but everything else was lost,” said Tuck Beckstoffer, president & CEO of Tuck Beckstoffer Vineyards in St. Helena, on Monday. Beckstoffer purchased the former Dancing Hares Vineyard at the foot of Howell Mountain in 2016. The 20-acre property, near Merus and Mending Wall, includes a winery, cave and a 5-acre vineyard.

Despite its proximity to Château Boswell, ”Thanks to the heroic efforts of fire crews last night, Duckhorn Vineyards is standing tall this morning,” said executive vice president Carol Reber on Monday morning. “Lodi Lane was quite a battlefield, but we made it through.”

On Sunday, the fast-moving fire triggered evacuations east of the Silverado Trail, including a local hospital, Meadowood Resort, Calistoga Ranch and multiple wineries and vineyards. Photos have indicated fire damage at both Meadowood and Calistoga Ranch, but details are not yet available.

“It burned right up to the tasting room doors,” Mending Wall co-owner and winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown told Wine Spectator. He said that there were still 10 tons of grapes hanging on the estate’s vines in the northeast corner of the St. Helena appellation, all of which will now be lost. “We will definitely be putting it on the ground,” he lamented.

The fire has been stoked by strong, shifting winds, and gusts up to 70 mph on Mount St. Helena, and is burning a few miles from the boundary of the LNU Lightning Complex fire, which tore through parts of Napa’s rural hills near Pope and Chiles valleys in August. Fire crews attacked the Glass fire early with liberal air support from DC-10 air tankers and helicopters, hoping to gain control of the blaze. The potential for high winds remains in the forecast through Monday evening.


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The Glass fire burns in the mountains above Davis Estates in Calistoga.
The Glass fire burns in the mountains above Davis Estates in Calistoga. (Courtesy of Davis Estates)

Farther north, the fire burned in the mountains behind Davis Estates’ 155-acre property in Calistoga that rises above the Silverado Trail. Owner Mike Davis told Wine Spectator that some of his vineyard had a close encounter on Sunday. “Fire burned up to the edges on three mountain blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon,” Davis said, who noted that fire crews were clearing up hot spots with bulldozers and shovels. “I’m very grateful to all first responders who threw everything at it.”

It’s been a challenging month for many wine communities on the West Coast, and a reminder that California’s wildfire season still looms. Brown said he believes Mending Wall is in the clear for now, while Davis said he’s still concerned that embers might ignite spot fires, but noted that firefighters were working hard to clean up hot spots with bulldozers and shovels.

The staff at Merus winery, in St. Helena, was evacuated Sunday morning as well. Shawn Schiffer, president of Foley Family Wines, reported on Sunday that all of Merus’ staff are safe, but the property’s structures remain threatened.

The Glass fire burns behind Merus Wines' vineyard in St. Helena.
Flames from the Glass fire behind Merus Wines in St. Helena on Sept. 27 (SAMUEL CORUM/AFP via Getty Images)

"I had six fire engines on my crush pad fighting [the Glass fire] when I was asked to leave," reported Ehren Jordan of Failla in St. Helena on Sunday. "[The fire] had burned through my vineyard and down to the driveway and was above the crush pad."

Two new fires, Shady and Boysen (which Cal Fire is tracking as part of the Glass fire), broke out Sunday night west of Highway 29 on the other side of the valley, near Spring Mountain, prompting additional evacuations, with parts of the city of St. Helena placed under a warning. They are burning rapidly southwest, in between the scars of the 2017 Tubbs and Nunn fires. Reminiscent of 2017, the winds drove the fire toward the town of Santa Rosa, which overnight reached the eastern outskirts, including Oakmont and Skyhawk. Numerous homes have already burned to the ground, with thousands more threatened, and the evacuation area has been rapidly expanding throughout Monday morning.

—with reporting by Augustus Weed

More 2020 Wildfires

See More

Wineries and Chefs Gear Up Charity Efforts for California Wildfire Relief

Oct 15, 2020

A Vintage Lost?

Oct 8, 2020

California Wildfires: How You Can Help

Oct 6, 2020

Napa's Winemakers Discover Scorched Vines and Close Calls

Oct 2, 2020

We'll Make It Even Better: A Q&A with Meadowood Co-Owner Bill Harlan

Oct 1, 2020

News 2020 Wildfires Disasters Fires Cabernet Sauvignon California Napa 2020

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