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Napa Valley Reboot: After the fires

Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Travel News

As you drive Highway 12 north past the vineyards, tasting rooms and restaurants of Kenwood, all seems well.

The same is true farther north in prosperous Healdsburg and on Dry Creek Road, which bends past many wineries north of town.

A wandering visitor does run into sad surprises. You can't head up Adobe Canyon Road into Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, because most of its 4,020 acres burned. (The park remains closed.)

Drive idyllic Bennett Valley Road south from Santa Rosa and you will find miles of resplendent scenery, scattered ashen hints of trouble, then several grim blocks of burned-out homes as you enter the town of Glen Ellen, which lost hundreds of structures.

Yet the Glen Ellen Star, a widely admired restaurant on Arnold Drive, is serving dinner nightly. And just west of town, 1,402-acre Jack London State Historic Park avoided the flames. Its trails and historic buildings have been open since November.

For more glimpses of the area's beauty, vulnerability and resilience, drive to the low hills east of the city of Sonoma. At Buena Vista Winery, charring from a preventive backfire stopped less than 50 feet from the old stone building that holds the two-story tasting room.

And then there's the approach to nearby Gundlach Bundschu Winery, a sixth-generation family business. The flames claimed one historic home, but most of the operation survived, including the wine-production building, tasting room, two houses, picnic tables shaded by olive trees and the vineyards.

As you approach, the vineyard rows and pleasant scenery unfurl around you until a band of blackened landscape begins just below a ridge.

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Step inside, where Gary Coffland may be waiting to pour you a taste, tell you about all the wine lost in the quake of 1906, pour you another taste and show you his cellphone snaps of the October flames.

Then, he might explain how helicopters scooped water from the vineyard reservoir, how the winery family and staff raced to rescue the place and then had it open again within two weeks.

In the big picture, Coffland may tell you, "The fires are just another chapter of calamity followed by recovery."

Info: Sonoma County Tourism, 23570 Arnold Drive, Sonoma; (707) 996-1090, Experience Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, 453 First St. East, Sonoma; (707) 996-1090,

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