Ray Signorello Jr has vowed to rebuild after losing his entire winery building in the deadly fires that have swept across North California in the past week.
Signorello Estate’s winery, on Napa‘s Silverado Trail, was reduced to rubble by what the winemaking team described as a ‘tornado of fire’.
Wildfires in California wine country have so far left at least 40 people dead. Many homes have been destroyed and the state fire service said that 75,000 had been evacuated by Sunday 15 October.
Signorello was one of around 20 wineries and vineyards in the Napa Valley area that have been damaged to some extent.
‘I was away at the time,’ said Ray Signorello Jr. ‘My wife saw the fires on the hillside. There was a frantic phone call at around 10:45pm and she grabbed some stuff and ran out of there. Fortunately, my two young daughters were with me.
‘My winemaker and team tried to fight [the fire], but the wind was so strong it was like a tornado of fire travelling at 50mph. The whole area was evacuated.’
No one was allowed back until Wednesday and Napa Valley Vintners struggled to contact some winery owners in the Silverado Trail.
‘I had already programmed myself to see it,’ said Signorello of the ruins that lay where his winery stood less than a week earlier.
‘But it’s very sad. There’s over 30 years of history there. I lost my father and mother in the 1990s and they were both part of it. I remember when we were all there together.’
Also lost was Signorello’s personal wine cellar. ‘I had a fairly expensive cellar of top wines from Europe and around the world,’ he said.
However, Signorello said that he was hugely relieved to discover that all staff were safe and well.
His 2017 vintage also survived in the estate’s tank farm, with grapes already processed following an early vintage, and the 2016 vintage in barrel was also intact after a close shave. ‘The fire came right up to the barrel cellar and stopped.’
Now, he wants to get on with rebuilding.
‘We need to get back in business,’ he said, adding that he would seek office space to rent for staff. The winemaking team is likely to work a portacabin on-site.
‘I just need to get an architect and a builder. It might take me two years to rebuild.’
Full details of the damage to wineries was still emerging on Monday 16 October.
Fire also hit wineries in the Mt Veeder area. Mayacamas Vineyards reported one building had been destroyed, but its winery survived.
Nearby, Carole Meredith, of Lagier Meredith, told Decanter.com that ‘some vines have been burned’. It was too soon to say more, mainly because the estate was still within the evacuation zone on Monday morning (16 October), but she said that her house was still standing.
‘We built it with fire in mind. All the exterior surfaces are ignition-resistant; there’s a concrete tile roof, stucco walls, concrete terrace [and] metal terrace railing.’
Meredith described the fires as the worst in the Napa and Sonoma areas since 1964.