We’re a stubborn and resilient bunch in Sonoma County. The farmers, fishermen and ranchers who’ve lived here for generations have been tested over the years, from Prohibition to drought, but after three years of wildfires, blackouts and floods, this feels vaguely like PTSD.
The Kincade fire, the latest calamity, started Oct. 23, about a year after the Camp fire cloaked Sonoma and Napa in thick smoke, and two years after the Tubbs fire of 2017, which devastated parts of Santa Rosa, Sonoma’s county seat.
Kincade burned a larger area than Tubbs, but the latter was more deadly and destructive. The local utility provider, PG&E, preemptively cutting power to hundreds of thousands of customers reduced risk for Kincade, but it was an additional hardship, and financially painful for wineries, restaurants and hotels.
The timing couldn’t be worse these past three years: September, October and early November are the peak season for harvest and wine country tourism. Sonoma and also Napa officials have worked hard to rebuild tourism after every disaster, but just as recovery seems close, another setback comes.
Wine tourism is a significant part of Sonoma County’s economy, with about 7.5 million visitors arriving each year. The wine industry also employees 10 percent of the county’s work force, with another 20 percent working for local shops and restaurants who serve visitors.
Sonoma is still home to many small, family-owned wineries and restaurants, and they've been hit the hardest in recent years. To watch chefs feeding thousands of people at evacuation centers, working tirelessly yet again, you have to wonder about the emotional and financial toll.
Running a small business is hard enough in Northern California, even without disaster. Housing is expensive, and the commute from more populated areas so demanding that tasting rooms and restaurants struggle to keep staff.
The Sonoma I’ve called home for 30 years has endured a lot, but the wine roads and wine-friendly restaurants remain. The landscape is still striking, kids still play in the Sonoma and Healdsburg plazas, the skies have been blue and the air clear. Sonoma is not on fire.