Embers & Vines: A Documentary About the California Wine Country Wildfires

On September 27, a fire broke out broke north of St. Helena, California, eventually consuming over 67,000 acres and damaging dozens of wineries. In the Food & Wine documentary Embers & Vines, members of the local community reflect on the fire while it's still burning.

In the midst of reporting on the Glass Fire, I was on the phone with photographer and filmmaker Rachid Dahnoun, talking about how hard it was to gain clarity on what was actually happening in Napa and Sonoma. Early false reports seeded misinformation about certain wineries and residential communities having burned completely. Rachid and I agreed that something needed to be done to temper the sensationalist reporting.

Read more: Wildfires Destroy Homes and Iconic Wineries in Northern California Wine Country

All of Rachid's projects at the time were at a standstill—the air was too thick with smoke and most of wine country was in the evacuation zone—but he had a crew at the ready. I had been in touch with some of the hardest-hit members of the wine community, including Jean-Baptiste Rivail of Newton and Christopher Kostow of The Restaurant at Meadowood, two iconic places that had been reduced to ash heaps. I'd also spoken with Scott and Jenny Schultz of Jolie-Laide Wines and father-son winemakers Stu and Sam Smith of Smith-Madrone, for whom there was a silver lining even amid all of the peril.

Rachid and his crew resolved to tell these stories. As hard as it was, we felt it was important to document these events in the moment. All too often, the story ends when the fire is fully contained; the media coverage recedes and the world goes about its business. But as Kostow says, "If you come out of this the way you were before, you're not paying attention."

The resulting documentary, Embers & Vines, shows members of the community reflecting on the fire while it was still burning. We are humbled and thankful to the subjects for their candid interviews and for allowing us to speak with them on short notice. Special thanks to Sean Davis, Canyon Florey, Cameron Daniels, Regina Sanz, Cleod9 Music, Adam Housely, Justin Sullivan, and Napa County Public Information Officer Henry Wofford. Please watch and reflect, and please consider how to support California wine country.
—Jonathan Cristaldi

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