NAPA, Calif. — As the fires in California’s wine country are mostly contained, most winery tasting rooms have reopened and are eagerly urging people who’d planned visits not to cancel their trips.
Authorities are still estimating the damage to agriculture from the 21 wildfires in October that forced 100,000 people to evacuate, destroyed an estimated 8,900 structures and killed 43 people, according to the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
But the San Francisco-based Wine Institute reiterates that only about 11 of the roughly 1,200 wineries in Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma counties were destroyed or heavily damaged, while some others sustained some damage but are still able to make wine and welcome visitors.
In many cases, vineyards didn’t burn because of their high moisture content and actually helped to save structures near or surrounded by vineyards, the Institute reported.
“From what I’ve been hearing, where we had vineyards (in a fire’s path) they were actually effective as a natural fire break,” said Kim Vail, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau. “They may have been singed around the edges ... We won’t know the effect of that until next spring.”
Vail said county agricultural commissioners and other officials were just starting to assess damage and might have an estimate within a couple of weeks.
Among those computing the extent of damage is the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University, which launched its study on Oct. 11 to evaluate the immediate and long-term effects of the fires on the North Coast’s wine industry.
The project team of economists, data analysts, industry leaders and scientists are working to come out with a detailed assessment after some initial estimates of the extent of damage were inaccurate, the university explained in a news release.
The study will suggest best practices for rapid recovery and strategies to prevent future losses, said William Silver, dean of the university’s School of Business and Economics.
Among the most devastating fires in the wine country were the 36,807-acre Tubbs Fire between Calistoga and Santa Rosa, which destroyed an estimated 5,300 structures, and the 56,556-acre Nuns Fire near Santa Rosa, which destroyed about 1,200 structures, according to Cal Fire.
State officials have said fires in Northern California caused at least $1 billion in damage to insured property. Within the wine industry, several vintners — including Signorello Estates and White Rock Vineyards in Napa and Paradise Ridge in Santa Rosa — reported on social media that their wineries had been destroyed.
However, both the university and the Wine Institute report that damage to wineries and vineyards was not widespread, although some who work in the California wine industry lost homes.
“As far as wineries go, we didn’t really lose that many structures,” Vail said.
Some other farms were hit hard, including about a half-dozen of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers’ members whose diversified produce operations with “completely burned,” communications and membership director Evan Wiig has said.
Thousands of farm animals had to be evacuated, too, and in some cases their owners returned to the fire zone to find burned pastures that may need two or three years to recover, the California Farm Bureau Federation reported.