October 20, 2017 | by Lisa Mattson
September is the official beginning of the Fall Equinox, but October is when we really begin to embrace the chill of the autumnal nights, the shorter days and the changing hue of the vineyard. On Saturday, October 7, the last grape was crushed into our fermenter, and the winemaking team could finally relax. The fermentation room smelled like blackberries and cherries, as our cellar crew went about the usual routine of pumping over the cabernet tanks, and digging out those tanks that had finished fermentation to an awaiting press. Sunday night was the first night in many weeks where they could all retire early and sleep late. The last sound heard before falling asleep was the seasonal whoosh of leaves in the trees energized by the Diablo winds, an occurrence Northern California locals are quite familiar with this time of year.
And then came October 8—a day that now marks a before-and-after line in Northern California history.
It was a fall Sunday that Wine Country residents will never forget. In the darkness of the night, the seasonal Diablo winds, the moniker coined for a very good reason, took on a ferocity never experienced before. The combination of extremely low humidity and 70 mile per hour winds, fueled an existing fire into a river of flames across Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. Five years of drought, followed by record winter rain, amplified the ground fuel that with the high wind and extremely dry conditions created the perfect fire storm.
To think, all these years, rain during harvest was our biggest worry.
Ten days later, the Wine Country wildfires are almost contained, but this natural disaster and its aftermath have tested (and will continue to test) the Napa and Sonoma wine communities beyond compare. The scope of the damage is unprecedented, and we are deeply saddened that so many people have lost so much during this tragedy, including several Jordan Winery employees and a handful of wineries in Napa and Sonoma. Thousands of homes, businesses and other buildings have been destroyed, more than 40 lives have been lost and 50 people are still missing. Thanks to the rapid response from emergency personnel, first responders, concerned neighbors and smart phones, many lives were saved. But, the week-long threat of raging fires that loomed over the entire region has taken an emotional toll on everyone. We are humbled by how this horrific experience has united wine regions across the Golden State to help the North Coast overcome the greatest disaster America’s wine industry has faced.
Many customers have emailed us asking about the safety of the winery employees, our winemaking facility and our vineyards. Here’s an overview of the impact the Wine Country wildfires have had on Jordan Winery, our staff and our grape growers, as well as our charitable efforts to help the community recover from this disaster.
How Jordan Winery was affected by the Wine Country Wildfires
- Our priority first was (and continues to be) the safety and wellbeing of our employees, grape growers and business partners—our wine family. Fortunately, our immediate and extended families are safe, but five employees lost their homes to the Tubbs Fire, and one employee’s home and property suffered extensive damage. Many of our Alexander Valley grape growers’ properties were threatened by the Pocket Fire, but we are happy to report that they are also safe. Our beekeeper lost everything.
- All of our grapes were harvested and fermenting in stainless steel tanks before the wildfires began, so the 2017 Jordan wines will not be impacted by the wildfires.
- Jordan Estate and grower vineyards are also safe. The Pocket Fire broke out east of Geyserville in the Alexander Valley, not far from where we source prime cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec grapes for Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, but fire fighters stopped the flames from reaching the vineyards. (Stay tuned for a blog post about the benefits of vineyards during forest fires.) Many of our grape growers were under mandatory evacuation in the first few days of the Pocket Fire.
- Jordan Winery and Jordan Estate were not in danger during the Tubbs Fire and Pocket Fire, though it was a scary few days.
- Smoke drifted from the fires to the Jordan property. As a precaution, we delayed pressing cabernet sauvignon tanks, and confined our pump-overs to direct rather than any aeration to avoid any contact with air. (Stay tuned for a blog post about how wildfires can affect the taste of wine.)
- The town of Healdsburg was completely spared from the grave hardship that hit friends and neighbors in other parts of Sonoma County and Napa Valley. But, for the safety of our employees, guests and business partners, Jordan Winery was closed for tours and tastings last week. Air quality outdoors reached unhealthy levels never before witnessed in Sonoma County. Wines were ready to be drained from their tanks, so our cellar crew and winemaking staff not affected by the fires came to work and continued pressing and doing pump-overs.
- The Jordan Estate Tour & Tasting, an outdoor excursion across our 1,200-acre estate was canceled for several days due to air quality. Estate Tours will resume on October 23.
How Jordan Winery is Helping Wine Country Wildfire Victims
- John Jordan considers it his responsibility, as winery owner, to care for the winery family during this time of need. The winery is supporting them financially and emotionally. We are a very strong, tight-knit team. We will get through this together.
- Feeding first responders was critical during the wildfires, as more than 9,500 people were reportedly helping fight the flames. These heroes rushed to our rescue from near and far–even Canada and Australia. The Jordan culinary team made sandwiches for fire fighters and donated vegetables and proteins to Chef Dustin Valette for fire fighter to-go meals. Todd and Nitsa Knoll also delivered dry goods donations to Redwood Empire Food Bank, and we are donating our garden’s excess vegetables, lettuces and herbs to Sonoma Family Meal.
- The John Jordan Foundation and Jordan Winery teamed up to donate $25,000 to the new housing recovery fund for farm workers and their families displaced by the fires, launched by the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation and the Sonoma County Farm Bureau. The John Jordan Foundation had already donated more than $2 million to early childhood education and economic stability charities in Sonoma County this year before the wildfires, and his commitment to the advancement of our community will continue. A significant portion of the proceeds from Jordan Winery fund The John Jordan Foundation initiatives.
- John Jordan gave each Healdsburg-based employee at Jordan $500 and empowered us to decide how to use the money–give to a fire relief charity, give to a friend/family who lost everything or help cover personal expenses associated with the disaster.
- One of the greatest tragedies of a natural disaster, after loss of life, homes, jobs and cherished possessions, is how quickly the most vulnerable victims are left behind once the spotlight shifts to another unfathomable disaster—and vital resources start to fade. John Jordan feels strongly about filling that gap. One focus area of The John Jordan Foundation’s fire recovery initiatives will be local schools that were damaged or destroyed.
- View our Wine Country Wildfires charity donation blog post for additional updates.
How You can Help Victims of the Wine Country Wildfires
- Drink Sonoma and Napa wines and encourage your friends to do so. Many wineries will be redirecting revenue to fire relief efforts and local charities, so buying our wines helps the entire community. Though we don’t promote it, a significant portion of Jordan Winery profits fund The John Jordan Foundation’s philanthropy.
- Plan a visit to Wine Country this fall, next year or both. Many local businesses generate a significant portion of their income during harvest season, and economic impact of these fires could be terrible for many members of our community. This fire affected people at every level of the local wine industry—from the front desk clerks and servers at hotels and restaurants that were destroyed and the tasting room employees and restaurant staff who lost their homes to winemakers, cellar workers and winery owners who fled their neighborhoods with their children in pajamas. When you travel to Wine Country, you’re helping the entire community financially.
- Donate to one of the local charities supporting wildfire victims. A few recommendations include Redwood Credit Union’s Fire Relief Fund, Redwood Empire Food Bank, United Way of Wine Country, Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue and Sonoma County Humane Society.
- Sign up for the Jordan monthly e-newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to learn more about how you can participate in our holiday fundraising effort.