Fire Can’t Shut Us Down! Sonoma Wine Country Is Still Open for Business

Sonoma County Wine Country (photo by Howard E. Daniel)

Last week, I wrote about our escape from the Kincade Fire. Actually, our experience was more like an unplanned family gathering than a helter-skelter flight of refugees. But if you’ve been following the news, you’ve probably also seen that the fire triggered the evacuation of roughly 200,000 people, burned nearly 78,000 acres (32,000 hectares), destroyed 174 homes, and consumed or damaged another 260 structures. Miraculously, it killed no one and resulted in injuries to only four of the approximately 5,000 responding firefighters.

Photos and videos may have created the impression that Wine Country was burned to a crisp. Not so. What burned was mostly back country. Although one winery (Soda Rock) was destroyed and damage was reported at a handful of others, the fire left virtually all 60,000 acres of Sonoma County vineyards untouched and untorched. Moreover, most grapes had been harvested the week before the fire.

In short, Sonoma Wine Country is alive and well and remains open, prepared and eager for business.

So, if you live outside this area, we’d love to have you, your family and friends come for a visit. If you’re a local resident, I hope you’ll spend more of your hard-earned cash locally. As one wag put it, Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos doesn’t need your money, but the thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on the vibrancy of our joined-at-the-hip wine and tourism industries certainly do. These are the people who work in restaurants, hotels, wineries, vineyards and shops plus the countless employees of everyday businesses our visitor and wine industries rely on — from appliance repairmen and architects to tree trimmers and wedding photographers.

So, if you’ve never been to Sonoma County or if it’s been way too long since your last visit, here are just a handful of the delights we have in store for you:

  • Towering redwoods. You’ll find more than you can shake a stick at in Armstrong Woods, just up the road from Guerneville. Take a leisurely walk through this soaring natural cathedral. For me, this is Sonoma’s most magnificent attraction.

  • Rivaling the redwoods in magnificence are over 55 miles of rugged coastline grandeur, featuring cliffs, enormous wave-battered rocks, broad expanses of pristine sand, and an entertaining cast of sea otters, harbor seals, elephant seals, sea lions, pelicans (“whose beaks can hold more than their belly can,” in the immortal words of Ogden Nash) and myriad other sea- and shorebirds — plus, in season, migrating whales.

Hop Kiln Winery (Photo by Howard E. Daniel)

  • Wineries: We’ve got over 400 of them in five distinct wine-growing regions: Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Guerneville Area, Healdsburg, Russian River Valley. If you’d like to check them all out, even at a rate of four a day, it’ll take you over three months and give you a fuzzy tongue. We’ve got a better idea — come back again, and again … and again. Our hospitality is limitless!
  • You like suds? At last count, we’ve got about 30 craft breweries to which — and at which — you can raise a glass. If you prefer, check out our eight local craft cider makers and 15 craft distillers.
  • Is farm-to-table dining your thing? Sonoma offers a cornucopia of places to delight your eyes, nose and palate.
  • If you enjoy the peace of a green, leafy oasis surrounded by tasteful shops and eateries, the plazas of Healdsburg and Sonoma town and the Windsor Green are great places to spend a few hours. You’ll also have a great time exploring the varied charms of downtown Petaluma, Santa Rosa and Sebastopol.

Relaxing at Bodega Bay

  • You like exploring rustic townlets? We have a few of those too — for example, Bodega Bay (where Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds), Cazadero, Guerneville, Geyserville and Occidental (if your name is Howard and you order a scrumptious breakfast at Howard’s Station Cafe there, it won’t get you a discount — I know, I asked — but the experience is worth every nickel).
  • Beguiled by botany? Then don’t miss the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens in the heart of Santa Rosa. And near the northernmost reaches of the Sonoma County coast, check out the Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve, especially in May when it’s in full bloom. It’s also alive with redwoods, Douglas fir and tan bark oak.
  • Luther Burbank was not Santa Rosa’s only “favorite son.” Cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, creator of Peanuts, made his home here too. If you love Charlie Brown, Lucy, Snoopy and the gang — whimsical statues of whom can be found all over town — you’ll certainly want to spend a little time at the Schulz Museum. Writer Jack London spent his last years near Glen Ellen and is buried on his former ranch there.

Fort Ross (Photo by Howard E. Daniel)

  • History buffs will enjoy Fort Ross, Czarist Russia’s southernmost outpost on the West Coast. Established as a place to grow food for the fur hunters and trappers of Alaska, this beautifully restored early-19th-century anomaly in Mexican California brings a touch of old Russia to life. Don’t be surprised if you run into a family or two of Russian-speaking visitors — as I have — who’ve driven up from San Francisco to experience this remote, rough-hewn expression of their mother country’s heritage.

Whatever your preferences, you’ll find lots to do and enjoy in Sonoma County. So come help us keep the lifeblood of our economy pumping. If you’re driving, Santa Rosa is just an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge, and if you’re coming from farther afield, you can fly nonstop to Charles M. Schulz — Sonoma County Airport from Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Orange County, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle.

Don’t wait. Come now — and again next spring and summer when you can canoe or kayak down the gently flowing Russian River.


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2 replies
  1. Kerry Rego
    Kerry Rego says:

    Howard, I really appreciate your write-up of the damage as well as what’s open for business. Disaster recovery is an all-hands-on-deck situation and you’ve used your skills to help others. Thank you.


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