Okana­gan winer­ies touched by wild­fires

At least 2 winer­ies with links to winer­ies in U.S. watch­ing killer blazes closely


The Daily Courier

There’s noth­ing Tony Stewart can do now ex­cept hope for the best.

“The fire’s about a half a mile from the win­ery,” said the pres­i­dent of Quails’ Gate Win­ery in West Kelowna, re­fer­ring to a blaze inch­ing closer to Quails’ Gate’s sis­ter win­ery, Madrone Es­tate, in Glen Ellen, Calif.

It was one of 22 wild­fires that started tear­ing through Cal­i­for­nia’s wine coun­try on Sun­day. So far, they have de­stroyed 3,500 homes and busi­nesses and killed 21 peo­ple. At least 180 peo­ple have been in­jured.

“The power’s been out for two days and we’re in the mid­dle of harvest, so there are tanks full of wine that aren’t be­ing cooled, aren’t be­ing pumped over and the fer­men­ta­tion isn’t be­ing mon­i­tored,” Stewart said Wednesday.

While all those things could spell dis­as­ter for the vin­tage, it’s the least of Stewart’s and Madrone’s wor­ries right now.

“Most im­por­tantly, ev­ery­one at the win­ery has been evac­u­ated and is safe,” said Stewart.

“We’re sup­port­ing the firefighters and first re­spon­ders and mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion.”

So far, Madrone’s 16 hectares of Zin­fan­del, Chardon­nay and Pe­tite Syrah vine­yards and win­ery build­ings haven’t been touched by fire.

But flames are close and the sky is choked with smoke.

That might mean grapes about to be picked may suf­fer smoke taint and be use­less for mak­ing wine.

“The only thing we can do is wait and see,” said Stewart.

Quails’ Gate owns the Madrone fa­cil­i­ties and lands in Cal­i­for­nia, where sev­eral sis­ter la­bels are made, in­clud­ing Val­ley of the Moon, Lake Sonoma and Plume.

Jeff and De­coa Harder, own­ers of Ex Ni­hilo Win­ery in Lake Coun­try, are also watch­ing the Cal­i­for­nia fires closely.

Jeff’s brother, James, and his wife, Colleen, own three winer­ies in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, all of which are un­der evac­u­a­tion or­der — James Cole Win­ery near the town of Napa, Tank and T-Vine in Cal­is­toga.

“James’ wife and kids did evac­u­ate, but James didn’t and stayed to fight the fire (at James Cole),” said De­coa.

The fam­ily had vir­tu­ally no warn­ing that the fires were so close.

“They were told to evac­u­ate at 10:30 p.m. on Sun­day night and by the time they left two hours later, the flames were at the prop­erty line,” said De­coa.

“They lost some out­build­ings, but the vine­yard, win­ery and their home were saved. At one point, they were us­ing five-gal­lon buck­ets to scoop wa­ter out of their hot tub to dump on the fire, which came right up to the prop­erty line.”

The neigh­bour­ing prop­erty is Sig­norello Win­ery, owned by Van­cou­ver-based busi­ness­man Ray Sig­norello.

The win­ery burnt to the ground and vine­yards were de­stroyed.

The news re­minds the Harders of the July wild­fire that whipped through Lake Coun­try's Okana­gan Cen­tre neigh­bour­hood, de­stroyed eight homes in the area and threat­ened the re­gion's winer­ies.

Coin­ci­den­tally, Ex Ni­hilo has been plan­ning a fundraiser for the Cana­dian Red Cross' B.C. Fires Fund for weeks.

The cam­paign starts Saturday at the win­ery's Harvest Din­ner, where Kelowna artist Alex Fong's Any Way the Wind Blows paint­ing will be un­veiled.

The paint­ing will be sold to the high­est bid­der in a sealed bid auc­tion that runs from Sun­day to Nov. 12.

The Kelowna-based B.C. Wine In­sti­tute, which rep­re­sents most Okana­gan winer­ies, is let­ting the pub­lic know how it can help those af­fected by the Cal­i­for­nia wine coun­try fires. Peo­ple can do­nate to the Napa Val­ley Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion at Na­paVal­leyCF.org or Red­Cross.org.

The As­so­ci­ated Press

One of the 22 wild­fires burn­ing in Cal­i­for­nia wine coun­try de­stroyed Sig­norello Win­ery in Napa. The win­ery is lo­cated next to James Cole Win­ery, which is owned by James Harder, the brother of Jeff Harder, who owns Ex Ni­hilo Win­ery in Lake Coun­try. Twenty-one peo­ple have died in the fires in Cal­i­for­nia wine coun­try.

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