For many in Northern California wine country, October was wicked and haunted indeed. Today, on the last day of the month, we say goodbye to October 2017 and welcome November with open arms and a spirit of optimism and hope. Last weekend we took to the car and drove about 250 miles through Napa and Sonoma to visit some of our favorite spots and immerse ourselves in this beautiful place we call home. We snapped a few pictures along the way that we thought we would share as part of our farewell to October. Many of our photographs depict Sonoma and Napa in their natural states, untouched by the recent fires. However, because it would be disrespecting the history of the past few weeks to ignore the images that we saw along the way, we captured some of those as well.
We started our drive by heading up Silverado Trail, one of the areas that was hardest hit by the fires with both winery and home destruction. Our first impression was that a casual observer might wonder if there had been any fires at all. On both sides of the famed Trail sat recently harvested vines, their green leaves turning yellow and providing a beautiful backdrop to the drive.
As we slowed down to look closer, though, we could see clear and powerful evidence of the fires for many miles along the ridgeline.
We were surprised that the fire consumed all of the brush but left almost all of the trees standing and, in most places, did not destroy the vineyards. We have since learned that the vineyards acted as natural “fire breaks” by virtue of being green and, in some cases, recently irrigated.
As a result of the extreme heat of the fire and potential damage to root systems, it is likely that many of these trees will not survive.
As we proceeded up the Trail, there were spots where the fire burned all the way down to the road, consuming all of the brush in its path.
As we proceeded up Silverado Trail we stopped in front of the gates at Signorello Estate which burned to the ground the first night of the fires. Just up the road from there we stopped at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, one of Napa Valley’s most famous and well-regarded wineries. Although their winery building was intact, they did have damage on the property and we were shocked to see how close the fires came to their main building.
A bit farther up the road is Robert Sinskey Vineyards, the last winery at which we maintain a membership. From the parking lot we could see how dangerously close the fire came to destroying the beautiful winery building they recently completed.
Vineyards on the hill above the winery were destroyed by the fire and will need to be re-planted; fruit from these new vines will not be available for bottling for 4-6 years.
After driving much of the length of the Silverado Trail, we but over to Highway 29 and drove a stretch but saw no damage. We then cut up Oakville Grade heading west and also did not see any damage. On our way home we came down Dry Creek Road and also saw no evidence of damage. We should mention, however, that when we took the drive around, many roads were either closed or closed to non-residents, including portions of Dry Creek Road, all of Soda Canyon Road, stretches of Partrick and Redwood, and several other locations. We will plan another drive soon when these areas are safe to reenter and we can do so without disturbing the cleanup and rebuilding efforts of the people who live there.
Right before arriving home, we saw something that could be interpreted as a sign from above that things are on the mend. Right in the middle of the road was a glorious peacock.
Our 100 mile loop across and around Napa left us feeling exhausted so we waited two days before our 150 mile trek across Sonoma. Our plan was to drive to the Sonoma Coast, do some hiking, and then come home driving along the Russian River, all the while snapping pictures of the beautiful scenery.
Before we could get to any beautiful scenery, though, we had to drive through the Carneros region which was hard hit by the fires on the first two days. The trail of the fire which started in Napa and ended up many miles away in Sonoma could be seen carved along the hillside north of Highway 12.
From the road, it appears that the fire swept through much of the Nicholson Ranch property doing damage to both vineyards and buildings; however, it appears that the winery building was not completely burned. Just across the street, the historic Stornetta’s Dairy did not fare as well – the Atlas fire completely consumed and destroyed the entire operation.
We were sobered by the sight of the burned remnants of Stornetta’s and continued on our way west, gradually putting scorched earth behind us, at least for the time being. We hit Highway 1 and proceeded to our favorite hiking spot, Bodega Head.
It was a glorious day to be outside and we greedily sucked in the clean ocean air and enjoyed the majestic sites from our perch atop the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
One of the things we love the most about the hike along Bodega Head is the virtual guarantee of seeing animals that make the ocean and environs their home. Although we did not know it until we arrived, it is whale season in the Pacific Ocean and we were able to spot a family of whales cruising up and down the coast.
As we completed our 3 mile loop we saw a colony of seals and many birds soaring overhead.
When we visit Bodega Head we always try to squeeze in a visit to the town of Jenner a few miles up the coast. This trip was no different and we proceeded up Highway 1 for a stop at Cafe Aquatica which sits a hundred yards from the point where the Russian River flows into the Pacific Ocean.
There are few places that we know of that are better to sit for an hour or two with a cup of coffee and enjoy the sun and the view.
After his courageous hike, even Hubert enjoyed himself.
When Hubert told us it was time to get moving, we jumped back in the car and headed east along River Road and enjoyed the river views and the vineyards along the way. At the 101 freeway we turned south and that’s when we were forced back to reality: a few feet off of the freeway there was evidence of the fires for several miles. We decided to exit the freeway and drive through two of the prettiest towns in Sonoma County – Glen Ellen and Kenwood – and were devastated by what we saw.
Destruction in Glen Ellen and Kenwood is extensive and this scene was visible for quite a long way along our drive.
As we came back into Napa, we decided to take a look at the area behind our house where fires were raging Sunday night/Monday morning as the wine country fires began. These were the fires whose orange glow we could see from our backyard that caused us to pack up the car and leave for a while. About a mile behind our house (as the crow flies), this is what we saw …
When we got home we were tired and somewhat somber but glad we made the trip. As we enter the month of Thanksgiving, we personally have much for which to be thankful. Not losing our house. Not losing any friends. The spirit of community that we see in both Napa and Sonoma.
John & Irene Ingersoll
October 31, 2017