How Sonoma’s Vineyards Survived a Siege of Fire, Smoke and Ash


When I visited Gundlach Bundschu, construction on their family’s house was well underway. The vines had just begun to bud. Winery devotees sipped chardonnay near the pond that the Bundschus expanded after the Hanly fire. Winery staff and firefighters used that water to save the winery, the vineyards and the family’s beloved pear trees.

“The family business has withstood the test of time while learning from our past hardships and staying true to our roots,” Ms. Bundschu said.

Inside the stone-walled tasting room, I sidled up to the bar as the host Cat Francisco poured everyone a splash of the winery’s 2017 Gewürztraminer. A man wearing a Gundlach Bundschu cap explained that after he saw on social media that the vineyard survived, he booked his flight to come support his favorite winery, “and buy this new hat,” he added, tipping it toward Ms. Francisco.

“The fires did have an immediate effect on tourism in the month following the fires,” Ms. Bundschu explained, especially since the media reported that the winery had been destroyed. Yet fans of this property, and its popular Huichica music festival, have returned for the quality wine it continues to produce.

“Well you know,” Ms. Francisco quipped, “Grapes are just weeds with exceptionally good P.R.”

At the nearby Chateau St. Jean’s vineyard, its winemaker, Margo Van Staaveren, met me in the gardens of the palatial property, saying that when she returned, she found only a handful of the vines had caught fire, and just a small slice of the winery grounds.

Lucky for the grape growers (and those who enjoy their output), the weather that year had forced a premature harvest. Approximately 85 percent of the Sonoma Valley grapes had been picked before any smoke infused grape skins, and so far no evidence of long-term damage to vines has been found. The smoke taint appears to only have affected unpicked grapes, not root systems.



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