California wineries struggle to assess damage after wildfires

By Industries FOXBusiness

California wine grower waiting to assess wildfire damage

Sonoma County Wine Growers President Karissa Kruse on Napa Valley wildfires.

Fierce wildfires continue to burn across Northern California, killing at least 17 people and destroying more than 2,000 homes and businesses, as well as hitting the state’s treasured wine country.

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The flames were ignited on Sunday, driven by winds of more than 50 mph and dry conditions, forcing more than 25,000 people to evacuate.

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On Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in multiple counties including Napa Valley and Sonoma County, where 11 deaths have occurred.

“The situation is still unfolding and is pretty fluid,” Jonah Beer, vice president and general manager at Frog’s Leap Winery in Rutherford, California, tells FOX Business. Beer preferred not to comment any further at this time.

Violet Grgich, executive vice president and proprietor at Grgich Hills Estate in Napa Valley, says while she’s still in shock over the fires, the winery and its employees are safe.

“Power was just restored [Tuesday] morning. The air quality is still very smoky. Most of the cellar crew has been able to arrive and we are picking our final grapes, crushing them, and taking care of pump overs and fermentations as that is the most crucial aspect of our business now,” Grgich says.

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Michael Cann, president and CEO of WineCounty Media, tells FOX Business that while his company is solely focused on supporting first responders and people who have been evacuated and displaced in the Napa and Sonoma regions, he has seen a lot of inaccurate reporting on the situation due to lack of reliable cell service.

“We are really trying to provide accurate and real-time info and resources which can be used to contact family and friends in the area. The situation is still extremely dangerous as there are still at least five active fires burning with limited containment,” he says.

And as far as overall damage, Cann says it “is too early to say as no one is allowed into the evacuation zones, so we have minimal information.”

“From a pure travel and tourism perspective, we are at the tail end of the high season, so the community will have three to six months to recover before the 2018 season kicks in,” he adds. “The majority of business are still standing, but currently closed. They will reopen when the fires are out and the roads are reopened.”

Most of the grapes for this year’s harvest have already been picked, so the fires will not have an impact on the wine supply, Cann says.

However, he says that several vineyards were ruined as a result of the fires. Signorello Estate in Napa Valley was one of the vineyards that was completely destroyed.

In a statement to FOX Business, a spokesperson said that while neither the winery’s proprietor Ray Signorello, nor the winemaking team, have been able to access the property to fully survey the damage, they have been alerted that their property did not survive the fire.

A Hilton spokesperson says it has closed three of its 12 hotels in Northern California and has implemented emergency preparedness plans for its Hilton Sonoma Wine Country, Hilton Garden Inn Napa and Hilton Garden Inn Santa Rosa locations.

Joe Anderson, co-founder of Benovia Winery in Santa Rosa, says while he has accounted for everyone on his team, his biggest fear is that some of his employees may have lost their homes in the process.

Yet, in the long term, Cann of WineCounty Media says the region will be fine from a business perspective.

“I cannot speak to the personal loss of so many people and what the recovery process will be. So many people lost everything in minutes,” he says. “Additionally, hundreds of people lost their jobs [this week] when the businesses they worked for were burned and damaged in the fire. The key message here is that the region will desperately need travel and visitors to support the local economy.”
 

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