Friends of the Santa Clarita Valley are living “the magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy.”
Over the years, several wineries from Sonoma County have donated wine, time, and other treasures to benefit the Santa Clarita Valley Boys & Girls Club.
In exclusive interviews, some of these winemakers described the horrors they are living through in the wake of the still-burning fires in Napa and Sonoma counties.
Exploding propane tanks
In 2012, Adam Lee of Siduri Wines held a wine tasting that raised $15,000 for the Club. Today, he must look to care for his and his neighbors’ needs while working to save this year’s vintage.
“Early Monday morning, detonations woke me. They were nearby propane tanks exploding. The fire came down out of the hills, burning my kids’ school,” Lee said.
“It jumped the 101 Freeway, destroying businesses near our winery. A gun store went up in flames – that was quite the scene because of all of the ammunition exploding.”
Siduri is not located in some idyllic, forest setting. Rather, it sits in an extensive industrial park not unlike the Valencia Industrial Center. Despite what should be a lack of fuel, the fire wrought extensive damage there.
When he could safely enter his winery this past Tuesday, the first thing he had to do was dissipate all of the CO2 from the fermenting grapes.
Next he checked the tanks and barrels. Everything seemed fine.
But that could not be said for Luke, his cellarmaster. He received an alert that his neighborhood was being evacuated.
Lee walked through Coffey Park, one of the hard-hit neighborhoods.
“It’s not just home after home burnt,” he said. “Whole blocks have been wiped out, gone entirely.”
Fury of the fire
Michael Browne of Kosta Browne Winery and CIRQ Winery in 2015 donated to the Club three magnums of his award-winning wine and a private tour and tasting even though his wineries are not open to the public. The Club received $4,000 from his generosity.
During the past week, he’s had his own ordeal.
Friends called him at 12:15 a.m. Monday morning asking if they could board their dogs with Michael because a fire was approaching. He said sure. He had no idea of what was going to come next.
About two hours later he looked toward Santa Rosa, and all he could see was a massive orange glow.
That’s when the ash starting snowing on he and his family.
One of his daughters, justifiably concerned, said, “Dad, is our house going to burn?”
As Browne Michael said, “it was a war zone.”
The devastation was widespread and ignored socio-economic standings. His partner, Dan Kosta, lost his home, as did Dan’s father. Farmworkers also lost everything.
Now Sonoma County faces the overwhelming challenge of finding homes for the thousands of suddenly homeless.
Like Siduri, Kosta Browne and CIRQ wineries are fine but each are affected by the catastrophe; employees are dealing with their personal issues.
Both Browne and Lee extolled the community spirit arising, literally from the ashes.
“The whole community’s rallying,” Browne said.
Bonded by the fire
He described how Sonoma County residents are donating money, food, clothing, space, and friendship to those who’ve lost everything. He’s impressed by the fund set up by Redwood Credit Union to benefit those impacted by the fire.
Lee echoed Browne’s sentiments, adding, “It’s amazing the ways the wineries have bonded together.”
Brian Loring, based in Lompoc with his Loring Winery, offered Lee a place to make his 2017 vintage wine. Jeff Pisoni of Pisoni Vineyards and his wife are staying with Lee because Pisoni fears he may have lost his home.
The message both Lee and Browne want to send to fans of their wine, “The people of Sonoma and California are stronger by helping each other.”
This “magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy” ties everyone together.
By Carl Kanowsky
For The Signal