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Sonoma Mountain Vineyard. (Wikipedia)

California Wineries Survive Wildfires But Face A Difficult Time Ahead For Tourism

Tourists scared away by wildfires are threatening many wineries of much needed fall earnings.

By Evan Symon, November 12, 2019 6:25 am

After the ash settled and the record-breaking number of wildfires went out in wine regions around California, the damage could have been worse.

Some wineries, such as Soda Rock, did indeed burn down, and some fields had infrastructure damage. But Sonoma County production failed to fall with no drop in the volume of wine and sales remaining strong.

But their situations were critical, and possibly fatal, because of tourism.

The Kincade Wildfire, mixed with memories of smaller fires in the Napa Valley in recent years, has produced a drop of tourism in the county by as much as 50% per winery. In some cases, even more.

In one report by KRON, Napa Valley wineries were shown to be hurting badly from the lack of tourists.

Castello di Amorosa, owner Dario Sattui, who has suffered greatly from the lack of tourists, told KRON “[It’s] not just us. All the wineries, beauty parlors, hotels, restaurants — everybody’s hurting. People are afraid. I guess they think the Napa Valley’s on fire still.”

Another Sonoma winery owner, Clarence Henderson, told the Globe that it’s getting bad.

Soda Rock Winery being engulfed by the Kincade Wildfire in October. (Youtube)

“The winery itself recoups the cost of everything else,” said Henderson. “Bottles of wine sold and any other products around that. What puts many of us in the black are overnight visits, large groups of people coming, events like wine tastings, all that. Without that it means serious downsizing. That means fewer employees, diminished number of events, and less wine we can produce.”

“Thanks to the wildfires, we’re losing that revenue. Already this year we lost days of stays at our B&B. We’ve had to cancel tastings and hayrides. We had a few large hayrides planned that were cancelled. We had a corporate conference for late October that had to be cancelled that was going to bring in a serious amount of money. And of course we’re losing out on wine sales we sell here. We can clear thousands a day just on weekend tourists buying wine alone. Plus it’s the Christmas season, so that’s even more we lost.”

“We barely made anything this weekend, and that’s unheard of for a Sonoma Winery. But that’s where we are.”

Wineries in the region are currently trying to convey to tourists, both locally and nationally, that wildfires aren’t a threat anymore to them. But it’s not working.

“They saw wineries, like Soda Rock Winery, burning on live TV, ” explained Henderson. “Not many people are going to want to come after that.”

Also threatening wine producers are a diminished future crop thanks to wildfire damage, which will both cost a lot of money to repair and lead to fewer bottles of wine next year.

“We  were barely touched, but even a 5% reduction from any ash or cinder damage means that our safety margin of profits are gone,” said Henderson.

While the Kincade Fire is now extinguished, it may take several months, barring another major wildfire in the counties North of San Francisco or a reduction in wine production, for the industry to begin to recover.

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Evan Symon
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