Signorello Estate, a family-owned winery on Napa’s Silverado Trail, was destroyed in the Atlas Peak Fire. The winemaker, winemaking and vineyard teams were at the winery trying to fight the fire but retreated when it overcame the building, wrote owner and co-winemaker Ray Signorello Jr. in a Facebook post Tuesday.
The winery’s 25 employees are safe, he said.
This year’s grapes have been harvested and were inside fermentation tanks; staff have been so far unable to access the property and check on them and the vineyards, Signorello’s sommelier Ronald Plunkett told CNBC on Tuesday.
Signorello’s Chardonnay vines are 38 years old, Plunkett said. If those are burned, the winery must plant new ones. It would take about five years for those to produce wine. And even then, the resulting wine would not taste the same.
“It’s like getting punched in the stomach,” he said. “I just got back from vacation, looking forward to going back to work because … it’s not work to me. It’s a passion.”
The winery produces less than 5,000 cases of wine per year, he said, and the employees are like family.
“This is devastating to us because this is kind of our home,” he said.
Harvest is underway in the region, and Napa Valley Vintners estimates 90 percent of the grapes were picked before the fires started on Sunday. Of those remaining on vines, almost all are Cabernet Sauvignon, and the association’s winemakers do not expect smoke from the fire to affect them because the variety is thick-skinned and ready for harvest.
Haney said the same is true in Sonoma County.
The thickness of skin on grapes likely affects how rapidly smoke is stored, said Justine Vanden Heuvel, associate professor of enology and viticulture at Cornell University. Winemaking techniques can affect how smoky the final products taste. Plus, smoke taint tends to be less noticeable in wines that are more complex and are stored in oak barrels, such as Cabernet Sauvignon.
Overall, Napa Valley Vintners said, it is too soon to say how the fires will affect this year’s vintage or estimate their economic impact on the region’s wine industry.
For its part, Signorello has about 500 members who subscribe to its wine program, Plunkett said. The winery has received an outpouring of sympathy from members and neighbors.
The Sonoma County Vintners’ office has been “inundated” with support and well wishes from people in the U.S. and even outside the country, Haney said.
“You can’t imagine how wonderful and helpful it has been to all of us,” he said. “And I want to say thank you.”