California (The Jewish News of Northern California/JTA) – The tasting room reopened Monday morning at Hagafen Cellars, the only kosher winery in Northern California’s Napa Valley and Sonoma, although the property sustained heavy damage last week from the Atlas Peak fire, one of a number of blazes that swept through the nation’s premier wine country.
“As of today, we are open,” owner and winemaker Ernie Weir told J. The Jewish News of Northern California by phone on Monday. “The tasting room was impacted, but not so much that we can’t open. We’re waiting now for our first tourist.”
Weir sent out an email on Oct. 10 saying that flames had ripped through the property on the southern portion of the Silverado Trail, destroying several buildings and virtually all of the winery’s agricultural equipment — tractors, a forklift and even the crushing pad. About an acre of the winery’s 12 acres of vineyards was burned, although thankfully, Weir reported, the grapes had been harvested.
Unfortunately, he added, now there’s no equipment available to process them.
Hagafen didn’t lose any of its inventory, which was safely stored inside the main winery building, Weir said, although the impact on the 2017 vintage “is yet to be determined.”
Weir, who founded the winery in 1979, and his wife, Irit, were safely evacuated from their Napa home on Oct. 8, the first night of the fires. No one was hurt at the winery, although almost all the hens in their chicken house were killed.
One hen survived, Weir reported, and “we’ve renamed her Phoenix.”
At this point, Weir said he is working hard to get the winery up and running again, but the future is still uncertain. Asked whether the damage will prevent Hagafen from continuing as a business, he paused before replying, “I don’t think so.”
But he counts himself lucky. “They’re all material objects, which can be replaced,” he said of the damages. “I’m very grateful. Other people suffered much worse.”
Vintners throughout Napa and Sonoma counties are bracing to find out the full impact the devastating wildfires will have on an industry that drives the local economy, both through global wine sales and the tourism it brings to the region.
Nearly all of the hundreds of wineries in the region were forced to close during the first days of the fires last week. Some burned to the ground, including Signorello Estate in Napa and Paradise Ridge in Santa Rosa. Other historic vineyards, with old vines dating back to the 19th century, may have been singed beyond repair.
When the smoke fully clears, industry leaders fear the area will suffer a severe shortage of grapes for years to come. New vineyards may have to be planted, and it takes three to five years before they will bear fruit. Combined with the wine inventory lost in burned storage facilities, it could be decades before the industry recovers, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
As wildfires continue to rip through the North Bay Area, the Jewish community is reaching out to help those most affected by the devastation — including Jewish families that were evacuated as well as those that lost their homes.
There have been more than 40 confirmed deaths due to the fires, dozens of injuries and more than 5,000 homes and structures destroyed. The majority of the fatalities are from Sonoma County, where the city of Santa Rosa sustained heavy damage.
Rabbi Mendel Wolvovsky of Chabad of Sonoma has been fielding calls from members of his community, and with his wife, Altie, has been visiting those affected. They are making the rounds of nearby shelters that are housing people displaced by the blaze and handing out home-cooked meals.
“There are people in our community who have lost their homes, who have lost everything they have,” he told J. “We have been visiting with them, comforting them, seeing what they need, making sure everyone has proper housing.”
The Jewish institution most affected so far by the wildfires was the Reform movement’s Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, where most of the buildings were reported destroyed. Last week, the staff tried again to reach the property and assess the damage, but could not get near enough to tell.
Back at Hagafen Cellars, Ernie Weir was asked what the public can do to help. He didn’t hesitate.
“Come visit,” he urged. “Keep the Napa and Sonoma wine business going.”