While Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley are still in recovery
mode and won’t be fully back to normal in the foreseeable future,
the effort to reopen stores and wineries and reinvigorate tourism
has proceeded with remarkable success. Heroic firefighters saved
many buildings—and lives—through their extraordinary efforts.
Today, restaurants, hotels and wineries scorched by the fires have
undergone renovation and are open again for business—even if
the daily topic of conversation continues to be the extent of the
unimaginable property and personal loss.
It wasn’t just the vast range of the fires that decimated the counties;
it was the speed with which they spread, buffeted by high
winds. In Sonoma Valley’s Kenwood Inn and Spa, as one among
hundreds of examples, guests were suddenly evacuated with the
clothes on their backs; many abandoned luggage, passports, even
contact lenses. There was no time to send out fire warnings. The
lavish Paradise Ridge Winery near Santa Rosa burned to the ground
in less than an hour, and was reduced, in the owner’s words, to “a
river of boiling wine.”
At Archer Hotel Napa, construction workers were preparing
for its grand opening, but management warned workers to leave
immediately. Although the fire avoided Napa, winds heaved smoke
and ash over the city.
“We told everyone, ‘Your life and safety is our priority,’” recalls
Michael Collins, Archer Hotel Napa’s general manager. “We had
just put wall coverings and fresh carpet down (for the hotel).
Of course we were nervous. When it comes to Mother Nature,
sometimes you do not know what is coming at you.”
“It was intense and surreal,” says Gary Saperstein, interim executive
director for Sonoma Valley Visitor’s Bureau. “My house
was half a mile away from the fire. Winds were blowing it in my
direction,” he says. “I stayed at a friend’s house, and every night I
would go to bed not knowing what was going to happen overnight.”
84 South Bay Accent
After the blaze, his house was still standing.
Community support proved exemplary. Fairmont Sonoma
Mission Inn & Spa donated food to the displaced. Restaurants
such as the Glen Ellen Star cooked to sustain firefighters, police
officers and volunteers.
“In Sonoma, it was called the 10-pound fire because people gained
10 pounds since there was so much good food,” Saperstein says.
Do-gooders in Napa were equally generous. The Meritage Resort
and Spa offered 2,500 discounted room nights and 7,500 free
meals. The lobby morphed into a community lounge for those
in need of comfort and connection.
That was then. But the wine country has always been resilient.
It bounced back from Prohibition, which shut down thriving
businesses and all but destroyed the wine country’s economy. Now
it has to overcome a natural disaster that brought tragedy in its
wake—and it is determined to prevail.
“The best way to help us is to vacation here to enjoy wine and
spa country,” Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning says.
Our recommendations follow.
STAY When Sia Patel heard a fire was encroaching upon the
Olea Hotel, her 15-room boutique inn, she rushed to the Glen
Ellen property and made sure all guests left safely. Later that night,
two cottage suites were destroyed. In fact, of all Sonoma Valley
lodging, Olea was hit the worst. But she and her husband, Ashish
Patel, were determined to rebuild.
Now reopened, the Olea boldly enters its next era. “It’s literally a
complete remodel,” Sia says. The couple hired an interior designer
to create a new look with gray, bronze and white “mid-century
farmhouse luxury” interiors with sophisticated furnishings. For the
first time, the historic resort offers a swimming
pool with a new hot tub that will
serve as the focal point of the property.
An overnight stay comes with gourmet
breakfast, local red and white wine available
24/7 and unlimited in-room snacks.
The two cottages will be completed by
the end of the year.
After a five-month closure for cleaning
and restoration, Kenwood Inn and
Spa, the lush Mediterranean resort comprised
of several one-, two- and three-story
buildings, is back. Guests can take a dip
in the sparkling swimming pool, fill up
on a gourmet buffet breakfast and later
indulge in afternoon wine and cheese.
Many of the 29 plush guestrooms beckon
with wrought-iron chandeliers, fireplaces
and featherbeds. Of note is the remodeled
lobby designed to evoke an Italian inn.
Tamara Mims, president of the Four
Sisters Inn properties that include Gaige
House + Ryokan, likens the fire’s memory
to a difficult baby delivery. ”You tend to
forget and try to block it out. It took me a
couple of weeks to make sense of it.” The
only damage to the inn was a fallen fence,
and Gaige House reopened in a month.
Sonoma GAIGE HOUSE + RYOKAN