2020’s Glassfire in Napa and Sonoma: Focus on Castello di Amorosa

Castello di Amorosa, May 2019

From the news, you’d think that all of Napa and Sonoma wine country has burned down, including wineries, tasting rooms, vineyards, and the massive stone Italian style castle, Castello di Amorosa which I visited in 2019.

This is not so. It did not all burn to the ground.

But it can be hard to do a cheery “come visit Napa” story in the midst of a fire.

That’s what happened to me a few weeks ago: I was all set to do a series of posts about visiting Napa and Sonoma and pairing these wines with food when the Glass Fire started, and with ideal conditions of high heat and winds, quickly began consuming acre after acre.

It seemed in poor taste to blithely ignore the blaze, especially since the day I’d planned to publish the first article — on Charles Krug, Silver Trident, and Silverado–we visited Alcatraz Island and smoke from the area billowed ominously as we rode the ferry there on an unusually hot day for San Francisco.

So for the most part, except for this MerlotMe post about Sonoma’s Selby and Washington’s L’Ecole No 41, , I’ve sat tight, watched the news, and yesterday drove north to help a friend out by taking care of her cats, as well as check out Sonoma State with my son, a senior in high school.

Greetings from Sonoma State!

Now that I’m here, I’m able to see and smell for myself, and I can assure you that Sonoma and Napa are ready and waiting for you to visit. The Glass Fire is 97% contained and life is getting back to normal — whatever that it during these COVID pandemic times

Yes, there is a hint of smoke in the morning and night air for someone with a sensitive sniffer like me, but the air quality is good and the sky here is no longer orange– not even a tinge. And I’m pleased to report that most people here in Healdsburg are wearing masks. Healdsburg is adorable, by the way, and what a great place to visit right now!

Castello di Amorosa, May 2019

Still, it is hard to shake the shocking news and images of beloved buildings destroyed by fire. In the beginning it DID seem like hundreds of Napa and Sonoma winery structures had burned down in this and other fires this season, including the Wallbridge fire which I wrote about here in this article about Notre Vue. 

The truth is, there’s close to a thousand wineries in Napa and Sonoma, and while every loss is a tragedy, only a small percentage of structures were destroyed or damaged. And the other truth? Even before the fire, COVID had given the area a sucker punch.

One very dramatic loss was indeed at Castello de Amorosa.

Gretel Compton, Brooks Painter, Gwendolyn Alley; Gretel and Brooks have been friends for many years. Castello di Amorosa, May 2019

I was shocked to hear that the stone castle burned, and that most of the bottles stored there were destroyed. I’ve been there, tasted wine from the barrel with winemaker Brooks Painter, roamed the halls of the castle with a guide for a behind the scenes press tour which you can read about here.

photo courtesy of Castello di Amorosa

And I wondered: How could a stone building like that BURN in such a way?

Fortunately, this is not quite true. Fire hit one out building that stored wine.

photo courtesy of Castello di Amorosa

The losses are devastating, but the Castello did NOT lose all of its inventory or the castle: “While it is true that we have been affected by the fires, losing our Farmhouse building and scorched land surrounding the castle, we are grateful that our main castle building which spans 121,000 square feet has been left unscathed.  We owe this to the hard work of the employees, first responders, and firefighters that have continuously dedicated their efforts to saving our beautiful property,” they write in an email dated Oct. 8.

Noah Berger/AP photo

The Farmhouse was lost in part because of owner Dario Sattui’s choice to save the animals on the property by opening the gates and releasing them, then flagging down firefighters. The Farmhouse contained  wine worth $6,000,000, the bottling line, part of the 2020 vintage, a lab, and offices.

Fortunately most of the wine is stored off property.

Read owner Dario Sattui’s story here sent out yesterday, October 13, in an email to subscribers.

Tomorrow I head to Napa to see for myself. I understand that most of the drive from here in Healdsburg all the way to Charles Krug has burned in the past few years. Read my article about my 2019 visit to Krug, the oldest estate with a tasting room in Napa.

Charles Krug is hosting a veritable tent city with hundreds of PG&E employees valiantly replaces down and damaged utility poles, and the plan is for Musikaravan to play for them! I’m thrilled to have connected the violinists with Krug’s hospitality guru and all around great guy, Jim Morris, and I’m looking forward to looking around myself, and learn more about Krug’s response to COVID and everything else that 2020 seems to be throwing at the wine industry.

The good news from Jim? It’s really not as bad as it seems, and there’s plenty of great Napa wine to look forward to from the 2020 vintage.

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