HEALDSBURG (KPIX 5) — For 15 days this fall, the Kincade Fire raged and menaced Sonoma County. Before the final flame was extinguished, it burned more than 77,000 acres and damaged or destroyed nearly 400 homes or other buildings, including the historic Soda Rock Winery.
This is the story of what was lost in that fire, the story of a late fall harvest of ember and ash. It’s also a story of resilience, recovery and rebuilding, and the efforts in the meantime to build community.
It took just one unforgiving night of fierce fire and wind to erase a labor of love a decade in the making.
“My son called and said, ‘Soda Rock’s on fire,’” Soda Rock Winery owner Ken Wilson told KPIX 5. “I was just in shock and agony for the next four or five days.”
From 2000 to 2010, Wilson lovingly restored the winery at Soda Rock in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley. “The main wall is probably the main inspiration for why I love that site. The front wall just spoke to me in terms of the artisans who had put it together,” he said.
But by dawn on Oct. 23, the site of Wilson’s dream was left behind as ember and ash. But the front facade, the original wall of the winery that inspired Wilson, still stood.
The giant wild boar sculpture affectionately known as “Lord Snort” also survived. But perhaps most importantly and improbably, the old wood barn withstood the flames, too.
And so the seeds of an idea took root for Wilson; he reopened the winery for daily tastings. His staff poured the wine and loyal customers poured out their hearts about the recurring fires in Wine Country.
“It’s a symbol of resilience in Sonoma County. And it’s definitely a place for people to come together and share experiences of the last several years facing the fires,” said tasting room associate Abby Fletcher.
“We will be there for them when they do rebuild,” said customer Liz Oleson.
And Wilson is planning to rebuild the winery from the ruins; he estimates it will take at least two to three years to do so. There is even talk among his team of using the remnants of the winery’s old metal support beams to create a brand new sculpture, a companion for Lord Snort.
“Those beams are in there. But they’re all twisted and bent. So we have some material that we could salvage to put into a sculpture,” Wilson said.
But until then, there will still be wine at Soda Rock. There is sadness for what was lost, but there are celebrations for what survived.
“They’re helping me. We’re helping each other. It’s a good reciprocal thing,” Wilson said.
Wilson says that because the grapes were harvested before the fire and production is handled offsite, the damage done by the fire shouldn’t affect the 2020 vintage.
Soda Rock Winery remains open for tastings every day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.