Wildfires destroyed more than wine


Hoosier friends have had a lot of questions about the California wildfires that devastated Sonoma and parts of Napa County.

The easy answer, and not intended as a curt one, is there should be no impact at all.

The fires are extinguished, and rain has wetted the valleys. And while a lot of focus has been on which wineries were destroyed and which ones were just damaged, the human impact goes far beyond the winemakers.

Sonoma County officials recently announced that 1,121 structures were damaged, while 652 were destroyed.

The biggest part of those two numbers is private homes and not classy, elegant wineries. The Los Angeles Times reports the home loss at nearly 3,000 homes in Santa Rosa alone. Any way you look at the loss, it’s around 5 percent of all Santa Rosa homes, a city of 175,000 people. The difference in numbers can in part be attributed to the fog that happens after big disasters.

The residents who lost homes or had their house partially destroyed face huge challenges. It’s easy to think about the cost, insurance and such. But the cleanup effort involves the Army Corps of Engineers and environmental agencies.

Experts have estimated cleanup costs at $1 billion and report it could be well into 2018 before the effort is complete.

The area has boomed in recent years to make matters worse. The average Santa Rosa home price is $600,000 or about three times the national average. Still, that’s lower than living in San Francisco, so many have migrated out into the valleys.

There are all sorts of people rushing to help. A conglomerate of officials and organizations have formed “Rebuild North Bay.”

Nearly 250 local and state leaders came together Oct. 25 to coordinate efforts.

So why so much about Santa Rosa in a wine column? All those winery workers, owners and vineyard workers must have a place to live. The wine industry is very big business in northern California. The financial impact reaches every corner of the state but especially in the heart of Sonoma or Napa.

There are fundraisers being organized large and small. Rock band Metallica and touring-favorite Dave Matthews have a benefit planned for Nov. 9 at San Francisco’s AT&T Park where the Giants play baseball.

There is good news on the wine side now that the smoke has cleared. Approximately 90 percent of the harvest was completed before the fires ravaged the area. The amount of damage to vineyards was limited. Even those wineries lost had most of their crop in the winery already aging.

The best information I’ve found says 27 wineries were destroyed or damaged.

So how can you help? Sure, you could send a donation to any number of organizations that you can find online. But most of the wine leaders make it even simpler for you to help. They have said to tell people to buy Napa and Sonoma County wines. And as you see the news of damaged wineries issuing a new release or rebuilding, then go buy their wines.

That’s a pretty good way to do a very good thing.

Howard W. Hewitt of Indianapolis writes about wine every other week for more than 20 Midwestern newspapers. Reach Howard at: [email protected]

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