Beyond the myriad hand-painted posters thanking first responders for their efforts during the October wildfires, there weren’t a lot of signs that Sonoma wine country had been devastated by a natural disaster when I visited last month.
But when winemaker Sam Coturri invited me to jump into one of his company’s off-road trucks and we headed “up the mountain,” it didn’t take long for us to come upon blackened areas and “killer trees,” like the one above.
State recovery crews, he told me, remove some of the most dangerous burned-out trees. But many property owners are left to clear out the precarious “snags” as they are known in wildfire terminology. The government team marks them for you. But you have to remove them yourself.
Burned out trees and acre upon acre marred by damaged fences and cattle guards were just some of the issues that Sam was dealing with the day we visited in early December.
“Fuel… all I see is fuel, all around us,” he kept saying as we toured his family’s property and the farm where he grew up. He pointed to the dry brush that could instantaneously turn into kindling. The Coturris nearly lost their estate and beloved home in the October fires.
Word of the southern California wildfires had just begun to hit social media as he and I met up that morning. And it was abundantly clear that he, his colleagues, and his family were freaked out by the news they were receiving via text and private messages.
“Up here they call the Santa Ana winds the Diablo Winds,” he explained, referring to the notoriously hot dry air that arrives from the east this time of year.
The weather conditions that day were eerily similar to the day the Tubbs Fire first broke out.
At a certain point, Sam’s wife called him while we were in the car together. You could hear the fear in her trembling voice as Sam helped to soothe her nerves with loving words.
It’s going to be a long road to recovery for the California wine trade — financially and emotionally. As Sam pointed out that day, winemakers won’t know whether or not their 2017 vintage will be affected by smoke taint for many months to come. They have to let the wine age before they can properly test it.
There are also many other challenges they are facing, including a drop in tourist dollars and a housing shortage, just to name a few.
I’ll be catching up with Sam for updates to post here in coming weeks.
In the meantime, please check out the Slow Wine Guide blog where we have begun to post producer profiles nearly every day (many of the profiles online have been written by Elaine Brown, David Lynch, or myself). Some of the featured wineries will be joining us for the Slow Wine U.S. Tour in late February and early March.
There’s no better way to help in their recovery than by buying and drinking California wine.