Open for busi­ness:

Some winer­ies wait­ing for power to be re­stored in or­der to open for tourists

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By An­gela Hill ahill@ ba­yare­anews­group.com Con­tact An­gela Hill at 510-208-6493.

Napa en­cour­ages vis­i­tors de­spite blazes.

On a typ­i­cal au­tumn day in Wine Coun­try, shiny limos would be shut­tling bach­e­lorette par­ties through the fresh, ver­dant coun­try­side, wed­dings would be un­der­way and in­ter­na­tional tourists would be sip­ping wine. In­stead, many of those beau­ti­ful rolling hills are scorched, black as freshly laid as­phalt. The air is thick with a chok­ing haze and a pall of un­ease.

With no end in sight to the flames, the death toll now stand­ing at 23 and 3,500 struc­tures burned, in­clud­ing sev­eral winer­ies, this tragedy is not only one of lost lives and prop­erty. It is a stab in the heart to an area de­pen­dent on tourism for its lifeblood.

De­spite a sug­ges­tion from the re­gion’s visi­tor bu­reau, Visit Napa Val­ley, that tourists make other plans for the time be­ing, some hardy hos­pi­tal­ity busi­nesses want peo­ple to know they are still up and run­ning.

“We have not been closed at all,” said Ali­cia Sylvia, be­hind the bar at the Vint­ner’s Col­lec­tive, a multi-win­ery tast­ing room on Main Street in down­town Napa. It was one of very few busi­nesses open Wed­nes­day along city streets, as only a hand­ful of peo­ple walked the side­walks, most wear­ing breath­ing masks.

“We had peo­ple here Mon­day who were on their hon­ey­moon and hadn’t heard about the fires un­til they landed at Napa Air­port,” she said. “They still wanted to have the Napa ex­pe­ri­ence, and we were able to of­fer them what they’d taste in the Napa Val­ley.”

Some tour com­pa­nies are still ful­fill­ing reser­va­tions, though they’ve had nu­mer­ous can­cel­la­tions.

“Peo­ple spend a lot of money when they come to the Wine Coun­try, whether from around the U.S. or lo­cally. They’ve planned months or more in ad­vance,” said Mar­cus Mitchell, owner of Napa Val­ley Chauf­feur. “Our job is to make sure we give them the best wine ex­pe­ri­ence we can, even in th­ese cir­cum­stances.”

Mitchell has con­tacted his clients to alert them about the smoke and busi­ness clo­sures. “We’re buy­ing masks for our clients and let­ting them know what to ex­pect and find­ing other places to take them.” He hopes more winer­ies have power re­stored and can re­open as the week pro­gresses. “By Thurs­day or Fri­day, I wouldn’t be sur­prised, know­ing the val­ley, that 40 to 50 per­cent would be back up, pow­er­wise, and able to open.

“Th­ese places all need the money, and so do I.”

Beau Wine Tours is “to­tally func­tion­ing, and so are a lot of peo­ple,” said Rose Kap­sner, di­rec­tor of group sales and events. “But Oc­to­ber is our busiest month of the year. We just lost a huge chunk of rev­enue and so have the winer­ies, so we can’t lose any time be­ing closed.”

Not ev­ery­one is fol­low­ing the same path. Most of the 525 winer­ies in Napa Val­ley have been un­touched by flame, and many closed early in the week pri­mar­ily be­cause of power out­ages and road clo­sures, not fire dam­age. But as the Wine Coun­try fires show few signs of abat­ing, many vint­ners are won­der­ing whether it makes sense to re­open to serve mere hand­fuls of tourists.

As of Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of winer­ies along High­way 29 re­mained closed, but a few, like V. Sat­tui Win­ery in St. He­lena, were open and do­ing a steady busi­ness with peo­ple in the tast­ing room and at the pic­nic ta­bles.

“We haven’t closed at all,” said the win­ery’s vice pres­i­dent, John Winkel­haus. “There were peo­ple in the val­ley Mon­day — tourists who were al­ready here look­ing for places to go. Our power was out all of Mon­day, but we were op­er­at­ing on gen­er­a­tors.” V. Sat­tui was one of the few places open where peo­ple could get food in its deli. And while they did can­cel some tours that day and used “old di­nosaur credit card ma­chines,” Winkel­haus said, “we sold some food, sold some wine. And that night, we put on a wed­ding for 105 peo­ple.”

A group of tourists from Charleston, S.C., were sip­ping wine at the out­door ta­bles. Their visit planned more than a year ago, they ar­rived Tues­day, stay­ing at an Airbnb in Napa. “We got a list of places that are open from the Visit Napa web­site, so we’ve been go­ing to those,” said tourist Sarah Eller. “It’s so ter­ri­ble what’s hap­pened. But we hope we’re help­ing the busi­nesses.

“If they’re open,” she added, “we’re gonna sup­port them.”

AN­GELA HILL — STAFF PHO­TOS

De­spite the thick, smoky air, a group of tourists from South Carolina en­joy wine and snacks at V. Sat­tui Win­ery in St. He­lena on Wed­nes­day,

Many of the tast­ing rooms in down­town Napa were closed Wed­nes­day, while a hand­ful re­mained open for busi­ness de­spite smoky air blan­ket­ing the area.

John Winkel­haus says V. Sat­tui Win­ery in St. He­lena has re­mained open dur­ing the Wine Coun­try fires.

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