“There’s nothing wrong with that view,” says Annette McDonnell with honest pride from her vantage point at the Paradise Ridge wine tasting room in the small Sonoma town of Kenwood. Out the window, dormant grapevines soak up sun above a sea of bright yellow wild mustard flowers. Beyond the vineyards, the fire-scarred hills are developing a hint of green as winter grass stakes the first claim of renewal after the fires swept through the area in October 2017.
Just months after the seven Wine Country wildfires burned upwards of 100,000 acres, killing more than 40 people and destroying hundreds of homes and businesses, locals in Napa and Sonoma aren’t papering over the tragedy. They’re both claiming these ashes and rising from them. And they’re inviting visitors back to celebrate the strength of the region.
Visitors Return After the Fires
Depending on where your Wine Country adventure takes you in Napa and Sonoma, you may not see the fire scars. Napa’s valley floor and over 90 percent of Sonoma were unaffected. But talk to locals at tasting rooms, restaurants, and hotels, and you’ll hear the chorus of stories—a song celebrating countless individual acts of bravery and kindness. Of neighbors helping neighbors during and after the fires; hotels hosting fire refugees; grape growers and winemakers helping each other save the vital lifeline of the year’s harvest; and even how the moist soil of vineyards acted as fire lines, protecting neighborhoods and towns from the determined path of the fires.
Here’s a look at how Napa and Sonoma were affected by the fires, and how they’re bouncing back with new openings and big events this year.
Napa After the Fires
While the Wine Country fires were devastating for locals, most visitors to Napa are hard-pressed to see signs of the impact. No hotels in Napa County burned down, and the majority of the Valley’s 400-plus wineries resumed operations within days after the fires. The floor of the Napa Valley—where most of the towns, hotels, and wine tasting rooms are clustered—remained almost entirely untouched by damage.
Downtown Napa continues its trajectory on the path to becoming the Napa Valley’s beating heart with a new hotel, restaurant, and tasting room openings, plus fresh offerings at the recently opened Culinary Institute of America outpost at Copia. The recently opened boutique Archer Hotel brings elegant new rooms; a soon-to-launch rooftop bar, spa, and ledge pool; and a destination restaurant by celebrity chef Charlie Palmer. Nearby, the River Terrace Inn added eight guest rooms along with a new restaurant, ALBA.
Other recent openings around Napa include Ashes & Diamonds, a winery that stands apart with its eclectic mid-century modern design and eye toward 1960s-style Napa Valley wines; and Compline wine bar and restaurant, which also offers wine classes. There’s even a new way to sightsee: tuk-tuk tours from Laces and Limos offer a novel way to wine-taste your way around downtown and up into the surrounding hills.
Beyond the Napa city limits, the Valley offers plenty more that’s new. Vintage House, in Yountville, recently debuted 80 guest bungalows tucked into the landscape of The Estate Yountville. In Calistoga, UpValley Inn & Hot Springs has reinvented the space formerly occupied by Comfort Inn Calistoga. The renovation will extend to the hotel’s hot springs mineral pool and courtyards in the coming months.
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Sonoma After the Fires
Drive along Highway 101 through Santa Rosa and you’ll see signs of the fires’ path of destruction. But more than 90 percent of the county was left untouched. Although two hotels (the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country and the Fountain Grove Inn) were destroyed, three new hotels have opened and several more properties will open this year. Only one winery, Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa, was destroyed by fire, but the winery’s other tasting room in Kenwood is open. Sonoma County reports that more than 425 wineries are currently welcoming visitors after the fires.
Celebrations are in the air in 2018, with anniversaries and festivities around the county. Gundlach Bundschu, the oldest family-owned and -operated winery in California, celebrates 160 years of winemaking; Jack London State Historic Park marks its 55th year; the Sonoma Raceway turns 50; and Santa Rosa’s downtown Wednesday Night Market celebrates 30 years. It’s also a year of new things: In addition to new hotels like The Astro in Santa Rosa, 2018 brings the long-awaited Petaluma Gap American Viticultural Area (AVA), a long-awaited designation recognizing the micro-region’s unique climate.
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In Napa and Sonoma, the people know that the land speaks through the wines, whispering of big rain years, droughts, heat waves, and mild summers. These deviations from ideal circumstances lend character to each new year of wine. And while a particularly early harvest meant most of the 2017 grapes were spared the wine-ruining “smoke taint,” it’s clear that the story of fire—and of community, resilience, and renewal—will play out, sip by sip, in local tasting rooms for years to come.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Napa’s Yountville Is Walkable Wine Country
- 10 Incredible Vineyard Hotels Perfect for Wine Lovers
- 10 Coolest Hydrotherapy Spas in the World
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Christine Sarkis recently toured post-fire Napa and Sonoma with Visit Napa Valley and Sonoma County Tourism. Follow Sarkis on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.
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