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Food & Wine's Ray Isle is reporting on the ground near the fires in California wine country.

Ray Isle
October 10, 2017

Fires that started around 10 P.M. on Sunday night, October 8, continue to burn across thousands of acres in northern California’s wine country, destroying homes and businesses and covering the entire area in a blanket of smoke.

As of Tuesday, October 10 at 3 P.M. PST, the following is confirmed. More than 100,000 acres of land have been affected, including large parts of the city of Santa Rosa, and at least 15 people have died. More than 20,000 people have had to evacuate their residences and over 1,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed. Plus, the fires have not, as yet, been contained and reports of the wind possibly rising again in coming nights have residents here on edge. 

Because the fires are still burning and many roads in the affected areas are blocked, definite information regarding damage to wineries and vineyards is difficult to access. In Napa Valley’s Stag’s Leap District, White Rock Vineyard and Signorello Estate are confirmed to have burned; near Santa Rosa in Sonoma, Paradise Ridge has also been destroyed.

However, other wineries that were reportedly destroyed have turned out to have sustained only moderate damage. Examples include Darioush Winery and William Hill Winery. Both are in the area along Napa’s Silverado Trail and were rumored to have burned completely, but evidently have not. Jennifer Scott, Director of Communications for Chateau Ste. Michelle’s luxury wines division, which owns both the historic Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Antica on Atlas Peak, both in affected areas, reports that “Fortunately all of our employees are safe, and our wineries have been minimally affected.” 

Also, the overall 2017 vintage may not be overwhelmingly affected. Grower Andy Beckstoffer, who farms more 3,600 acres in Napa, Mendocino and Lake County, including the famed To Kalon vineyard, notes that most of the grapes in the area were harvested before the fires began. "We're 85 percent done, and a lot of people are 100 percent done. And no one is saying not to deliver grapes because they're worried about smoke taint." (Beckstoffer's latter point is that while smoke taint, which can affect the flavor of wine, may be an issue for unharvested grapes, most of the year’s wine is already in tanks or barrels, safe from the dense smoke that now covers the region.) "But there's a lot of hurt and a lot of damage, definitely," he says. 

With cell phone service spotty, power out through much of the area, and fires still burning, the atmosphere is one of speculation and worry—and despair, as many people's homes are either unreachable or destroyed. 

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