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.
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.