The SOMM Journal

December 2017 / January 2018

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Page 26 of 124

26 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } DECEMBER/JANUARY 2017/2018 26 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } DECEMBER/JANUARY 2017/2018 { inside sonoma } by Chris Sawyer / photos by George Rose Flames, Love, and Respect SONOMA COUNTY'S 2017 VINTAGE ESCAPES MAJOR FIRE DAMAGE IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA, the release of the 2017 vintage will undoubtedly bring back memories of the catastrophic wildfires that swept across the counties of Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lake, Solano, and Yolo in early October. When the smoke cleared, dozens had been killed, 245,000 acres were scorched, and 8,900 homes, businesses, and other structures were reduced to rubble. Yet the damage to the wine industry was much lower than early media hype suggested, with more than 95 percent of wineries untouched by the flames; what's more, most high-quality grapes had already been picked by the onset of the fires. In the end, we can thank a unique set of climatic changes for helping to save the 2017 vintage, including the largest amount of rainfall on record; an excellent fruit set in springtime; a consistent pattern of warm summer days; and a series of heat spikes in early September that acceler - ated harvest to near-completion before the destructive blazes began. Although he lost his home during the fires, Winemaker Mike Sullivan, Co-Owner of Benovia Winery in Russian River Valley, counts himself a fan of the vintage. His team had already picked 95 percent of their fruit before the wildfires began, so he had plenty of time to become enamored with the Pinot Noir from the winery's three estate vineyards and the Grenache from his family's vineyard on Sonoma Mountain. "When we brought the clusters in, the berries were bright and vibrant, with com - plex flavors and good tannins," said Sullivan. "I'm very enthusiastic about this vintage— especially when you consider the other factors that came into play." But until the new wines hit the market, there are more pressing matters to deal with—starting with letting the general public know Sonoma County is once again open for business. One avid promoter of this message is Rene Byck, Co-Owner of Paradise Ridge, a popular winery and hospitality center that was destroyed in the Tubbs Fire. To aid the Byck family through the difficult rebuilding phase, local vintners provided high-quality juice and donated space in winemaking facilities to ensure Paradise Ridge would have wines to market from the 2017 harvest. Meanwhile, local restaurants and retailers are purchasing additional cases and running specials to keep the brand in the public eye, while consumers are show - ing compassion by visiting the satellite tast- ing room in Kenwood. The iconic LOVE Sculpture, located on the Fountaingrove property the family purchased in 1994, has become an inspirational symbol of the resurgence of the community, appearing in the "Love is in the Air" ad campaign Sonoma County launched in early November. "The best way to support us is to buy our wines and Sonoma County products right now," says Byck. Night farming continues as flames peek over the spine of the mountain near Windsor. One of the healthy green vineyards just out- side of Windsor that helped to shield wineries and houses threatened by the Tubbs Fire. A sweeping Sonoma vineyard in the Alexander Valley sits near the smoke and flames from the Pocket Fire.

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