It’s been one year since multiple fires ravaged California wine country, disrupting harvest and leaving devastation in its wake. But while the road to recovery is long and steep, these Napa and Sonoma businesses have climbed out of the ashes and taken the first major steps towards rebuilding. One year later, here are some updates on how the region is recovering:
Signorello Estate, a hilltop winery that completely lost its tasting room in Napa’s Atlas Peak Fire, served as the poster image for the devastation caused by last year’s North Bay wildfires. But proprietor Ray Signorello, who also lost his residence in the blaze, will tell you they were lucky, for their vineyards, barrel cellar, and crush pad were spared.
He only needed a few days to decide to rebuild: Signorello officially breaks ground on a new, ultra-modern hospitality center and state-of-the-art winery — complete with caves — on October 9, a year and a day from the tragedy. “We had a really nice facility before; you wouldn’t have taken a bulldozer to it, but that’s essentially what happened,” said Signorello. “It gives me a clean slate, and it’s a unique opportunity where we’ll have some of the oldest vines in Napa with one of the newest wineries.”
The rebuild will take two to three years; in the meantime, Signorello has set up an interim tasting room inside a chic, 60-by-12-foot trailer that showcases the property’s sky-high views of Napa Valley. Tastings, which include a food pairing and vineyard tour of the 100-acre estate, are offered five days a week (closed Tuesday and Wednesday) by appointment, at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m.
The winery has also partnered with Meadowood Napa Valley to offer their robust food and wine experience, called Savor Signorello. The four-course lunch (think, lobster with a corn panna cotta) paired with Signorello wines takes place at the resort. The final seating of 2018 is October 26, but more dates will be released at the end of the year for 2019.
Across the valley, one of Napa’s most iconic wineries, Mayacamas Vineyards, also lost their tasting room on Mt. Veeder in the Nuns Fire. Thankfully, their 19th century stone winery building survived.
Mayacamas announced last week that they will be opening a tasting room in downtown Napa this fall within the new First Street Napa complex. As a silver lining, the new digs will make Mayacamas wines more accessible than ever before; the mountain estate previously had limited availability for tastings.
In Sonoma County, Paradise Ridge Winery inarguably suffered the most catastrophic damage, losing it’s hospitality center, winemaking building, three homes, and a few other structures in the ferocious Tubbs Fire.
But the winery’s popular sculpture garden somehow survived, including the life size “LOVE” sculpture. Through October, people can visit the garden on weekends, between 11 a.m - 4 p.m., or make an appointment for a vineyard tour and tasting.
Paradise Ridge has completed renderings for their rebuild, but is awaiting permit approval. They expect to break ground this month, eyeing an October, 2019 grand opening. “We are in the waiting pattern right now, said co-owner Sonia Byck-Barwick. “We’re anxious to get building. We originally thought we’d start to build in August, then September, now October. We just want to get started.”
The new Paradise Ridge will have a similar look and feel as the original with a modern update. “The end goal is that people come back and they feel a familiar, warm feeling, but it also feels fresh and new,” said Byck-Barwick. “The goal was to get a little bit of both of those into the new building.”
In the meantime, Paradise Ridge has begun bringing back some of its signature wine club events and even hosted the kick-off party for the Sonoma County Wine Auction. “I feel like we’re coming up for air. Having people here makes us happy,” said Buck-Barwick. “It was really nice to share the magic with people again.”
Sweet T’s, popular for their southern comfort cooking made by actual southerners, is weeks away from firing up the smoker at its new home in Windsor.
Willi’s is moving to Santa Rosa’s Town & Country Shopping Center, where its owners are working on combining two adjacent spaces. Originally, Mark and Terri Stark were targeting a symbolic grand opening on October 9 — exactly one year after they lost their restaurant off Old Redwood Hwy. — but are now eyeing early 2019, thanks to the arduous permitting process.
The Starks plan to bring back some classic, fan-favorite dishes from the previous 15 years and also hope to welcome back as much of their former staff as possible. “We’re having a party at our house on Monday with all the staff that will hopefully be returning,” said Terri Stark. “We’ll be going through the archives and menu items, have everyone vote for their favorites and talk about dishes they’d love to see come back.”