ST. HELENA (KPIX) — The Glass Fire never got closer than seven miles to Chimney Rock Winery but, even so, it’s been a bear of a summer.
“We came out of shelter in place in June and then we had the LNU fires and bad air quality and then, you know, reopened and then the Glass Fire,” said Michelle Egan, director of hospitality for the winery.
Resuming wine tastings this week produced a hearty blend of gratitude with a hint of wariness. The air smells sweet again and most roads are open so customers are slowly returning, even if pandemic rules are keeping their numbers low.
Lou Pezzella, from Benicia, missed his tasting reservation in August when the LNU lightning fires broke out.
“It pushed us out a whole month after and we were going to come up last week but they were still closed so to finally get the call: ‘yes, they’re open this weekend,’ I was like, great! Fantastic!” Pezzella said.
To reward customers, Chimney Rock is now offering guided cart tours of the property, pointing out not only its beauty but also the fruit that will not be harvested due to smoke damage. It’s been that kind of year and the same is true at sister winery Rutherford Hills, where an evacuation tag still dangles from the front gate.
The fire came within a mile of the property and it just reopened to the public on Thursday.
Gerson Navarrete hustled up from Fairfield with his wife and friends to do some wine tasting and support the business.
“If nobody comes, the employees will be sent home,” Navarrete said. “So, even if you have two or three people, at least you are promoting the economy for them to provide income for their families as well.”
Despite the challenges of staying open — or perhaps because of them — wineries have been doing booming business in online sales.
Loyal customers are supporting their favorite wineries while at the same time enjoying a little pandemic stress relief of their own but both the wineries and the wine tasters agree: nothing beats being there in person.
“It’s like ‘back to school’ again, right?” said Chimney Rock’s Egan. “We’re prepared. We’re here with open arms and the wines are showing better than ever.”
But there’s always another challenge and Egan says the next one will be the coming change of weather as wineries try to figure out how to comply with COVID-19 restrictions when it begins to rain.