The wind died down in Northern California in the early hours of Friday morning, and while the Kincade wildfire that started on the night of Oct. 23 has spread across nearly 22,000 acres in Sonoma County, firefighter crews have been able to keep it in the sparsely populated hills north of Geyserville. As of this afternoon, the blaze had destroyed at least 49 structures, including 21 homes.
Though a blanket of smoke covers the region, wineries in Alexander Valley report limited damage. Most have closed their doors for the time being, but say their buildings have not been touched. Several vineyards lie in the wildfire zone, and vintners have not been able to inspect them, but they hope the damage is limited to destroyed posts and irrigation equipment. More than 90 percent of the fruit in the area has already been harvested, several vintners report, but the evacuations and closures mean some wineries are understaffed while fermentations are still ongoing.
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Gerard Thoukis, chief marketing officer for Foley Family Wines, which also owns Lancaster and Chalk Hill in the nearby Chalk Hill AVA, told Wine Spectator that they were ready for Thursday's evacuation order. "The Foley winemaking team has learned to adapt to the changing conditions, whether those are power outages, fires or other unforeseen conditions." By today, the winemaking team was back at work, though the tasting room remains closed.
Francis Ford Coppola, DeLorimier Winery, Silver Oak's Alexander Valley winery, Jordan, Ferrari-Carano and Trione are among the wineries closed today due to the fires.
"At present, the Francis Ford Coppola winery and Virginia Dare winery are not in any immediate fire danger resulting from the Kincade fires," Corey Beck, CEO of The Family Coppola, told Wine Spectator via email. "However, to keep traffic clear and employees safe, we have closed all winery operations. The winery has harvested the majority of our vineyards … and the grapes are in production at the winery, where we currently have available backup power if needed. Our main concern is to ensure the safety of our grower operations, staff and neighbors affected by the fires."
While the evacuation order for Geyserville early Thursday morning brought flashbacks of the Tubbs fire near Santa Rosa, Sonoma's largest city, in 2017, this fire has not spread as rapidly and has been confined to less populated areas. The fire's cause is still unknown, though reports of a downed transmission line at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday night has locals again looking at local utility PG&E. Downed electrical lines have caused several fires in recent years, so much so that the company has been conducting controlled blackouts in parts of the state for several weeks. Power will be cut in Santa Rosa this weekend.
Wildfires can have an unseen impact on a vintage. Find out how smoke taint can impact a wine long after the grapes are harvested.
In a press conference this afternoon, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that regardless of the cause of the current wildfire, PG&E deserves plenty of blame for both fires and the blackouts. "We should not have to be here," he said. "Years and years of greed, years and years of mismanagement in the utilities, in particularly PG&E. … They simply did not do their job." Newsom has declared a state of emergency.
More than 1,300 firefighters are working to bring the blaze under control. Winds are supposed to strengthen on Saturday evening, with gusts exceeding 40 miles per hour, raising the risk of more fires. Crews of firefighters have been stationed in nearby towns.