As news continues to pour in regarding the destruction of the Northern California fires, family winery Signorello Estate confirms it has burned to the ground in the Napa Atlas Peak Fire. Founded in 1977, this hillside gem resided high in the hills off the Silverado Trail, and was beloved for the gorgeous views from its hilltop infinity pool.
Winemaker Pierre Birebent was on the scene when the fire started, and he, along with the winemaking and vineyard team, did everything they could to save the winery, before being forced to evacuate.
According to Ronald Plunkett, the Estate Sommelier, who hosted Signorello’s famed wine and food experiences for the past two years, “When the fire first broke out, they tried to use water and hose it down until it kind of overran them and the fire department kicked them out of the winery.”
Plunkett awoke Monday morning to find that he no longer had a place of work, a situation many Napa and Sonoma workers now face, even if they weren’t affected by the fires directly.
“I flew back from Myrtle Beach on Sunday night,” he said. “And Monday morning, my phone had like 50 messages, because I turn off the ringer at night. At first, I thought it was a joke. I felt like I was punched in the stomach. You go into shock mode, thinking, ‘This can’t be real, I was just there.’”
All of the winery’s employees are safe, but it’s been confirmed that the building, which was built in 1986 and hosted the tasting room, is a total loss. Like many residents and business owners, they haven’t yet been able to return to the site to assess the full extent of the damage. They anxiously await news of their barrel room and fermentation tanks, which hold ageing wine and the 2017 vintage. Most importantly, they await full understanding of the current state of the vineyards. Signorello has 42 acres of estate vines.
“That’s the biggest concern,” said Plunkett. “We have 38-year-old chardonnay vines; those are irreplaceable. If we’ve lost from the vineyard, it takes five years to get your next viable crop if we have to replant. God forbid it’s a 100-percent loss. [That would mean] we can’t produce wine for another five years. That’s huge.”
The loss of vineyards in the fires will have the greatest long-term impact on the Napa and Sonoma Valley wine industries. It’s a devastating loss not just for this year, but the next several vintages. Signorello is among the lucky wineries that has finished harvesting all of its fruit prior to the fires. Many wineries had not. Grapes on vines that survived will still be affected by the smoke that permeates the air and will continue to be impacted for the days to come.
Plunkett says proprietor Ray Signorello, Jr. is “devastated,” but plans to rebuild as soon as possible. It was a double loss for the Signorellos, as the estate was also a family home. Luckily, the 2015 vintage of red wines and 2016 vintage of white wines were safely stored offsite. Once the fires subside, they may be able to set up a temporary tasting room — like a tent or trailer — which could mean Plunkett won’t need to seek new employment.
He says that the bright light in these harrowing times has been the support coming in locally and beyond.
“The outpouring of support has been amazing,” he said. “When I first posted this on Facebook, I had literally 1,000 responses. I’ve been inundated with emails, with people saying things like, ‘We’re praying for you,’ plus an outpouring from other industry buddies. That’s what’s really impressed me. It was the same with the  earthquake. Everyone kind of pulled together. I think the same thing is going to happen again.”
— Reported by Jess Lander for Eater SF