"We said, 'What can we do in this situation?' We could lick our wounds, or we could get active and try to do something good."
Looking East Towards Geyserville
Credit: Ray Isle

It's been almost a year since the Tubbs fire in Napa and Sonoma counties claimed nearly 37,000 acres and 22 lives, making it the most destructive wildfire in California history. Calistoga and Geyserville—towns known worldwide as wine country destinations—were evacuated, entire vineyards were destroyed (others will take years, or in some cases decades, to reach stable production levels again), and for a while, the city of Napa had the most polluted air in the nation, with an air quality index of 167 (0 to 50 is considered good).

Since last October, many in the wine community have stepped forward to help aid the victims of this natural disaster. The Union de Grands Crus de Bordeaux—a collection of 135 Chateaus from some of France's most prestigious appellations—for example, teamed up with Sotheby’s on a wine charity auction, the proceeds from which went to rebuilding efforts in the affected areas. But Chris and Andrew Cates, the father-son duo behind Napa Valley's Segassia Vineyard (which was also ravaged by the Tubbs fire) found an especially creative way to give back.

"We said, 'What can we do in this situation?' We could lick our wounds, or we could get active and try to do something good," Chris Cates told NPR. After looking at what remained of Segassia, the Cates family found that only about 40 percent of the vines were actually burnt. While the grapes were tainted with smoke, and therefore not suitable for wine-making, they weren't totally un-harvestable. Something clicked.

A few years ago, the Cateses developed a process for turning wine grapes into raisins—a project that was spurred by the realization that about five percent of vineyards' fruit goes to waste each year. The result was a snack called RayZyns, and the family found that when they applied the same patented dehydrating technique to the smoke-tainted grapes, they tasted just fine (in other words, there was no weird campfire flavor).

Soon, the Cateses has recruited other vineyards to donate their fruit to the raisin-making project, and in just one month they had collected over 100 tons of grapes. Early this year, they launched Rescue RayZyns (available in both regular and dark chocolate-coated varieties), with one dollar from every online purchase split between the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund and the Food Recovery Network.

And, since RayZyns have a super long shelf life (two to four years) they're an ideal disaster food. That's why the family reached out to the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico last year (unfortunately, they were unable to help due to time constraints). Still, the father son duo hopes to keep giving back. "If you think about things in the midst of hardship, you can do a lot of good," says Chris Cates, "but you have to think about them in a different way."