When the Smoke Clears

It seems everyone in Northern California is suffering from PTSD. For wine country, this was our second natural disaster in four years and was the largest fire in California history. For all the people that have lost family or property we are grieving with you. My family was incredibly lucky. We awoke on that ominous Oct 8th with a call from good friends warning us that we had fires on both sides of the valley that were closing in on us (thank you Sasha and Joel). I stepped outside and the Vaca mountains were aflame and looked like lava pouring across the range. We evacuated four children, our au pair, a skittish cat (named Guy Diamond) and a puppy to our friends house in Cordelia with two other families. We stayed there for three days until we saw the fires on the top of the ridge coming over into Green Valley and the smoke was intolerable. We then relocated again to Walnut Grove with limited internet and clean air for another four days. While we can in no way compare our experiences with those who lost so much, the continual stress as the fires encroached and receded again and again from our house and our friends like James Jory, Rob McMillan, Hawk Wakawaka, my mother in law and so many more. We were all sharing a collective experience of shock and terror. Diane McMinds described it best in her Facebook post. (PS — I am adding a ton of links in this post and I recommend you try to click on as many of them as you can — this one is great).

During and after the break we sadly saw so many of our friends lose their homes: Tony McClung, Lisa Mattson, Mike Moone, Scott Moss, Jason Meeks and so many more. We even thought that we lost my mother-in-law’s house and her chickens who had been left behind when the fires from Mt. Veeder sped towards her house.

The remains of my mother-in-law’s truck and horse trailer.

There are not enough words from me or our entire community to the first responders and fire fighters that fought back the blaze and saved so many homes and lives. They were true heroes in so many ways and we all owe them a debt of thanks and gratitude. Fire professionals came from all over the country and world risking their lives. There Here’s a great clip of Hawaiian firefighters singing (please watch) that will bring a smile to your face.

Image from CAL Fire

There were big heroes like the Deputy Mark Aldridge who saved dozens of people the night of the fire or people like Eli Ponce and Dan Wynn who bulldozed for six days straight saving countless homes. There were the 1000’s of incarcerated men and women helping to battle the blaze. The winds of that night were unbelievable and pushed the fire in ways no one ever imagined (this clip is both incredible and scary).

There were also the small heroes like Elaine Brown, Thea Dwelle, Rob McMillan, and Esther Mobley who tirelessly combed through false social media and legitimate news sources including first-hand accounts to deliver real time updates. Or even the simple email the day of the fire from Stephen Mutch offering help first thing on the morning of the fires.

Or my friend and former colleague Louis Calli who did his part to actually help fight the fires directly as a volunteer.

Or Sonyia Grabski who drove to Concord to buy as many respirator masks as possible (4 cases) and the Sherman Williams employees who discounted the masks to cost of goods to ensure the most people in Napa got them as fast as possible.

Or Derek Bromley & Jen Knight via Ohm Coffee who tirelessly served coffee to 900 first responders in Napa (please buy their coffee as a thank you).

Or Kara Goldin who immediately donated 36K bottles for free and matched 1 for 1 every case ordered (I bought 10 cases for my family as a thank you).

But where wine country shined the most was with our restaurant community. Feeding first responders and evacuees again, and again, and again. People like Dustin Valette from Valette restaurant in Healdsburg worked day and night to nourish those fighting the blaze and those displaced by the disaster.

Photo George Rose

Guy Fieri got in the mix too. In Napa chefs from all restaurants banded together. Zuzu, Hurleys, and so many more. Even chefs from outside areas jumped in quickly to help.

There are so many more stories of kindness and generosity from people, other wineries, and more that I couldn’t highlight all of them. But with all the heroes there is no question that the first responders, the fire fighters, and the last responders deserve all the accolades and praise. Here is a story from my wife Angelica Mabray about the kindness of firefighters -

“Everyone in Napa Valley has a story of gratitude and respect for all of the wonderful people who helped to save our homes, businesses, and farmland from the recent, terrible fires. My mother lives at the top of the Oakville Grade, in a small valley (canyon) below Wall Road. She is an animal lover extraordinaire. All beasts, great and small. She has horses, dogs, cats and chickens. When it came time to evacuate, she was able to save all of her animals, except the chickens. She has been waiting for an agonizingly long time to get home, and had resigned herself to the fact that her beloved hens (and everything else she owned) were lost to the fires. Yesterday, she was allowed to venture back up the hill. The bridges were burned down, all her water tanks were gone, but the house still stood. And not just the house…the chicken coop, and all of her feathered friends. The firefighters had given them water and food, and kept them alive through the fire storm that raged around them. An amazing act of kindness and humanity. I have no other words. Just love and gratitude for these wonderful souls…who we will never have the opportunity to thank personally…but they will always be in our hearts. Thank YOU.”

Actual picture of the chickens.

So where does that leave us now? We all are collectively grieving for those people who lost their lives, their pets and their homes. There are no words that can bring back those people or precious memories lost to the flames. We are also saddened by all the businesses that were destroyed and the resulting effects on workers of those establishments. Wine Country tourism is down 70% compared to last year. Even for the businesses not affected directly by the fires are trying to recoup the lost income and ensure they can employee people properly. So if you want to help wine country buy wine and products from Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino. Even better, come visit and enjoy the restaurants, hotels, shops and more. We’re here with open arms. #winecountrystrong

Before you go please take the time to read these better stories about the fire and aftermath from Elaine Brown and Rob McMillan.

If you want find other ways to support Napa, Sonoma, or Mendocino victims of the fire



Wine Revolutionary. Digital, CRM, CX, Start-ups, Social Media, Hospitality (especially wine) are my jam.

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Paul Mabray

Wine Revolutionary. Digital, CRM, CX, Start-ups, Social Media, Hospitality (especially wine) are my jam.