Fatal wildfires scorching eight Northern California counties this week have dealt a devastating blow to the important wine and tourism industries, destroying several historic wineries and threatening the remaining grape harvest in the Napa and Sonoma valleys.
Although the seasonal harvest is nearly complete, the conflagrationthreatens to disrupt tens of thousands of jobs and destroy valuable stores of grapes and wine in bins, barrels and bottles. The extent of the damage will be unclear for days because the fires are blocking many worried owners from reaching their wineries.
Tourism in the region — a multibillion-dollar economic machine that includes high-end hotels, wine-tasting tours and upscale cuisine — is suffering as the flames have claimed a number of establishments and forced many others to shutter for the rest of the week.
“It has been a devastating fire,” the Sonoma County Winegrowers group said in a Facebook post. “Reports of fire damage to wineries, businesses and homes continues to grow.”
The blazes — which have left at least 17 people dead — continued to rage on Tuesday. Seventeen separate fires, across 115,000 acres, have forced more than 20,000 people to evacuate.
California is the fourth-largest wine producer in the world, according to the Wine Institute advocacy group, and generates $15.2 billion in taxes annually.
Among the damaged wineries:
■ White Rock Vineyards, established as a winery at the foot of the Stag’s Leap area of Napa Valley in 1871 and owned by the Vandendriessche familysince 1977, burned to the ground on Monday.
■ Signorello Estate, a family-owned, ivy-draped winery along the scenic Silverado Trail in Napa, was also engulfed in flames.
Paradise Ridge posted photos of the charred rubble and blackened hillside where its Santa Rosa winery — just shy of its 40th anniversary — had stood.
■ Ancient Oak Cellars in Santa Rosa said in a Facebook post that the fire had destroyed a house, two redwood barns and the tasting counter on the property. But it said the majority of the company’s bottled wines and all of its wine barrels were safe in other locations.
The fires also destroyed several Santa Rosa establishments, including the Fountaingrove Inn, the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country hotel, Willi’s Wine Bar, the Cricklewood steakhouse and more.
The French Laundry, a restaurant in Yountville with three Michelin stars, was closed Monday night because of power failures.
Some wineries in the fire’s path escaped serious harm.
Darioush Winery, in Napa, lost half of its Persian-inspired landscaping to the flames, but the winery was still standing and the wines were in good condition, said Dan de Polo, president of the winery.
“It’s dynamic and messy right now,” he said of the fires. “There are still a lot of dangerous zones.”
At the James Cole Winery, in Napa, the co-owner James Harder and his family evacuated Sunday night after the fire demolished the eight-foot fence surrounding the vineyard. Neighboring homes were burning to the ground, as was the nearby Signorello winery.
“We thought our property was gone,” Mr. Harder said.
But then the winds shifted. He and several friends returned to James Cole and formed a “bucket brigade” to put out remaining flames, saving all but a few small outbuildings.
On Tuesday, Mr. Harder returned through “very dangerous smoke and haze” with a rented truck to rescue grapes that had been waiting in bins and barrels to ferment. The winery still had five acres of unpicked grapes and 10 tons of the fruit in the cellar.
“We tasted some, and they were still pretty good,” Mr. Harder said. “But we smell like smoke, so we don’t know what we’re really tasting.”
The wine industry in Napa County supports 46,000 jobs locally through the 700 grape growers and 475 wineries operating in the area, the vast majority of them family owned, according to the Napa Valley Vintners trade group.
For now, wineries are trying to hook up generators for electricity and will most likely be out of operation for four or five days, said Pete Richmond, who runs Silverado Farming Company, a vineyard management firm.
“The biggest issue is trying to reach out to people to contact them to come back to work, because a lot have evacuated and cell service is miserable,” he said. “And we’re trying to reach places, but the roads are still closed and we don’t know when we’ll have access to them.”
Last year, California wineries drew 23.6 million visits and $7.2 billion in tourist expenditures, according to the Wine Institute. The area is known for its cabernet sauvignon grapes, which currently fetch more than $8,000 a ton, according to an annual report from the Silicon Valley Bank.
Wineries that lost vineyards will have to wait three to five years to nurse the soil back to health and coax out a viable crop of grapes, said Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers.
Surviving grapes may suffer smoke taint — a smoky flavor that makes them unusable for fine wine, she said. Wineries damaged or destroyed by the fire could lose vast reserves of wines aging in barrels and bottles. The repercussions of the fire on wine stored in barrels and tanks is unclear.
Still, Ms. Kruse pointed to some silver linings. In most cases, the flames destroyed the brush planted between the rows of grapes, and not the resilient vines themselves. And record-breaking temperatures in September meant that fewer grapes were left exposed to the fires.
“For the most part, the vintage is in, and we should still have a viable wine community as we move forward,” Ms. Kruse said. “We all grumbled that the Labor Day heat was going to define the 2017 vintage, but it expedited the harvest, which we now look at as such a blessing.”