The devastating fires that ripped through Northern California’s wine country regions in recent weeks have left their mark on the communities with homes destroyed and people displaced. As the area and the people who live there work to rebuild, they’re facing a new problem: October and November are traditionally the peak season for the tourism that the region depends upon economically, but in the wake of the fires, visitors just aren’t showing up. That puts additional strain on the agriculture and hospitality workers already most at risk.
“We’re going to need visitors now more than ever,” said Tim Zahner, interim CEO of Sonoma County Tourism. “Our 20,000-plus tourism jobs are among small, locally owned businesses. Providing hospitality to travelers is the best way to help Sonoma County get back to work.”
Across the region, most of this year’s grapes had already been harvested, crushed, and stored in tanks, the majority of which were not harmed in the fires. And because vineyards themselves are irrigated, the vines were less likely to burn in the wildfires than the parched, natural foliage that fed the blazes. In Napa County, of the 275 members of the Napa Valley Vintners trade association, only 20 reported fire damage to the properties themselves. As of now, the majority of wineries, tasting rooms, and other businesses are back open, they just need patrons to make the trip. Full listings of openings and closings can be found online for Sonoma County and Napa County.
Stuart Smith of the Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery in St. Helena has this answer for those who ask how they can help as the region recovers: “My answer is simple: come visit Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino wine country. Stay at our hotels, eat at our restaurants, and buy our wine.”
Wineries to Visit
Several wineries are donating proceeds from sales to the cause. The Silver Trident Winery in Yountville will donate all tasting fees it takes in during October to charity, and Hall Wines is matching any customer donations made to the North Bay Fire Relief Fund. Fontanella Family Winery in Napa was among those surrounded by fire and nearly burned, but the winery was ultimately spared and has already reopened for tasting appointments. If you’re more of a beer person, stop by Bear Republic Brewing, where the head brewer and many other staffers lost their own homes to the fires, and they’re now giving back with a special Sonoma Pride beer, in collaboration with Russian River Brewing and the King Ridge Foundation.
Where to Stay
Many hotels in wine country have re-opened—several never closed, instead turning into ad hoc shelters for evacuees—but a few remain shuttered, like the popular Silverado Resort & Spa (which plans to open later this month). One quaint option: Inn on Randolph in Napa is currently offering 20 percent off standard room rates and donating five percent of proceeds to relief funds. For a modern-meets-rustic stay, Boon Hotel + Spa in Guerneville offers a choice of chic rooms or fun glamping tents.
What to Eat and Do
Santa Rosa was among the communities hit most by the fires, so consider supporting folks there by sitting down for a meal at The Pullman Kitchen or the just-opened Beer Baron Bar & Kitchen. The annual Napa Valley Film Festival, billed as “the ultimate film, food, and wine experience,” scheduled for November 8 to 12, 2017, will proceed, including appearances and talks from Nancy Meyers, Will Ferrell, and other film luminaries. A portion of ticket sales will be donated to relief efforts. If you happen to be stopping in the Bay Area along your trip, the dining community there is banding together for ChefsGiving, with many of the area’s top restaurants donating money raised from November 13 to 19.
How to Support the Recovery
Even if you aren’t traveling to the region, you can donate to support the region’s recovery efforts. In Napa, the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund is collecting funds for those affected by the fires. Rebuild Wine Country is a new nonprofit formed in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, with a goal to raise $5 million to help rebuild homes in Sonoma, Napa, Lake, and Mendocino Counties.
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