Recently, it was brought to my attention that I now have more than 30K followers on Vivino. This, in addition to the other publications I write for, means a reach of more than 50K readers, affirming what a friend in the industry once told me: “Amongst the people that nobody has ever heard of, you’re kind of a big deal.” Fair enough. I had intended to write a post about this milestone, simply thanking those of you who read my musings about wine, but then it occurred to me that with fires destroying so much of what I hold dear, a different approach might be called for this morning.
Yesterday, the editor of the Omaha Wine Review, which in full disclosure is a web page that I own, published a new take about the ongoing fires in Napa and Sonoma. While these devastating fires rage across wine country, we focus on saving lives, rightfully, and on the environment. But as it relates to wine, her eloquent thoughts amounted to more of a call to action. Here’s a link to what she wrote:
Later that day, I received an email, the subject line of which read “Wineries reassure customers during times of crisis”. Frankly, I was appalled. Reassure customers? Who me? Here in Nebraska? Reassure me of what? That I’ll still have wine to drink tomorrow? Of course I will. But what about the wineries and the people who own and work in them? I think the thing we have to remember in this time of crisis, and that many have, is that once the ashes have settled, what’s lost is first and foremost human life, and secondly, the homes and livelihoods of many of our friends and fellow human beings. These fires are in essence the California equivalent of the horrifying storms we’ve seen raging across the southern Atlantic and Caribbean this year, and the path of destruction is broad with lasting consequences. This brings me to another thought.
There’s a myth often circulated amongst some in the Napa Valley that 90% of the wineries are family owned. It’s a “myth” in that it’s only technically true. Technically, yes, Gallo is a “family”, but they are also a massive conglomerate that buys up labels and smaller wineries and then does with their employees and resources as they please. Juggernaut would be more fitting. And when the ashes settle in wine country, many of the wineries will be rebuilt using the funds of shareholders from around the world, management companies in New York, or the deep pockets of billionaires whose vanity project burnt down. This will be easy, relatively speaking, for those with unlimited means. But for others, it will be the greatest mountain they’ve ever had to climb.
I know that wine from Napa and Sonoma is expensive, and I understand that this can lead to the perception that those who produce it must be very rich. Some of them certainly are. But we must also remember that there are people whose winery is not only their passion and their dream, but also their family’s sole source of income, and sometimes even their home. These people are artists and farmers, and in the years to come they will need our help if they are to remain in business. When I heard about the fires, I reached out to many friends to see how they were doing. Tom at Pine & Brown, Hugh at Schramsberg, Jean at Alpha Omega, Catherine and Alexander at Volker Eisele, and the Smith’s at Smith-Madrone all got back to me fairly quickly. The Smith’s have evacuated, and the Eisele’s home is threatened. Jean lost his vineyards. Tom is ready to evacuate at the drop of a hat, and Hugh expressed thankfulness that he has not yet been hit by flames, but concern for his countless neighbors who have. Many others I reached out to have not yet gotten back to me, no doubt too preoccupied with saving their livelihoods to sit down and write an email.
I’ll follow this little essay up with more in the near future, but for now my suggestion is simple, and falls in line with that of Erin at the Omaha Wine Review: If you know of a small, family-owned winery that has been impacted by the fires of Napa and Sonoma, be sure its their wine that you’re drinking in these coming months. Should the Robert Mondavi Winery burn, this would be tragic, but Constellation will have no trouble rebuilding it. Gallo will not struggle to rebuild their lost holdings. France and Italy are not currently on fire. But Smith-Madrone, the Volker Eisele Family Estate, Alpha Omega, and countless other wineries are on the precipice of disaster. Some will lose wineries and winemaking equipment. Some will lose wine in barrels or bottles that they can then, of course, not sell. Some will lose vineyards, which will take many years replanted before they will ever bear useful fruit. We must be the ones to ensure that none of them lose heart.
I fear that these fires may be the end of many of the small producers that I — and you — cherish to deeply. But maybe not. Not if you and I support them in this time of need. We would do well to realize that we are not the ones who require reassurance in this crucial time, and that we can reassure the wineries we love and the people who run them that we’ll keep them going with our patronage. If you’re among the 50K people who read my writing about wine, then please join the movement to keep the best of Napa, Sonoma, and the rest of California wine country alive in the coming years by making sure that the next bottle of wine you buy — and the one after that, does not support some massive conglomerate’s bottom line, but instead goes toward helping a family of grape farmers and artists to rebuild their livelihood, keep their kids in piano lessons, and put food upon their tables.