California wildfires turn beloved Napa wine spots to ash
The Chateau Boswell Winery is seen in the distance, engulfed in flames from the Glass Fire in Napa Valley, California. AFP
The Silverado Trail has long been a place of dreams for Napa Valley wine lovers as it winds gently through vineyards and on to Calistoga.
California's Glass Fire turned much of that dream to ash, destroying a 3-star restaurant at Meadowood resort, torching wineries such as Chateau Boswell, and tainting precious grapes with smoke. The United States's west coast is experiencing a record-breaking fire season, with five of the state's six biggest blazes in history currently burning, and nearly four million acres scorched.
At least a dozen Napa wineries and vineyards were burned as the inferno erupted this week, with the scorched area now spanning almost 50,000 acres (20,200 hectares). On Wednesday at the Trailside Inn Bed and Breakfast, the skeletal remains of a bus converted into an RV (campervan) sat in a smoldering patch near a vintage Packard car with paint melted off the hood.
Smoke rose along the road and on hillsides, where crews of firefighters could be seen attacking pockets of flame with picks, shovels and hoses. Wineries that weren't in ruins were closed, often unattended because people had been ordered to evacuate the area and not allowed back in.
A guard stood watch at the entrance to Meadowood, where chef Christopher Kostow had turned the resort's eponymous restaurant a dining experience that earned three Michelin stars. While some other parts of the resort were spared, the restaurant was obliterated.
Flames also headed for Kostow's house in Calistoga, only to burn around the home instead of through it. "Losing your restaurant and your home would have been a double-hit no one could take," said Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning, who checked on Kostow's home for him due to the evacuation.
Trailer park luxury
Flames jetted from broken propane gas lines in the remnants of high-end mobile homes at the luxurious Calistoga Ranch, which has swimming pools, a lake, and a hilltop mountain along with hiking trails.
"It was unlike any trailer park you've ever seen," Firefighter Matt Macdonald of nearby Sonoma said while looking over the still smoldering landscape.
Near a "valet parking" sign were heat-twisted remains of golf carts once used to shuttle guests around the property. "It's all very sad," said a Napa County sheriff deputy watching over a vineyard on the Silverado Trail.
"People who come here each have their own memories, usually about a winery they love because it became special to them."
In nearby Calistoga, known for geothermal hot springs, mud baths, and wine tours, the cellar master at Castello di Amorosa braved the thick smoke and fire to assess the damage.
Flames gutted a stone farmhouse used to store wine but spared the faux Medieval Italian castle made of material brought in from Europe. The farmhouse held about 120,000 bottles of wine, valued at about $5 million, while it is expected to cost another $10 million to $12 million to restore the building, according to owner Dario Sattui.
Flames ringed the city of Calistoga, creeping slowly down dry, brown hillsides. Vineyards, with their green vines and lack of underbrush, acted as fire brakes in the absence of strong wind.
The main street was deserted, from the Calistoga Inn to Copperfield Books and the Indian Springs lodge know for its giant pool of geo-thermal water coming to the surface from deep in the earth.
Calistoga has become a world-renowned Wine Country destination since it was incorporated in 1886, and the town of about 5,200 residents typically sees more than a million visitors annually, according to Mayor Canning.
The pandemic struck a blow to the tourism and wine business, and now wildfires have claimed coveted destinations. "2020 sucks, I want this year over," Canning said. "We'll come back, but let's get all of this out of the way in 2020 so in future years we are done."