I could smell the embers and feel the crunch of the charcoal under my feet as I took pictures of what remained of the Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa, California. Burned out frames of cars sat parked in the driveway; no time to escape the approaching flames. On Sunday evening, October 8, 2017, fire ripped through Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties, killing 43 people, destroying 8,900 homes and disrupting wine country life during what is normally considered a time to gather and celebrate. After the fires were extinguished, damage was accessed and harvest continued in the vineyards. But it’s what happened after the flames were extinguished that brought people together. This is a story of California wine country after the fire.
First responders, firefighters, police officers, chefs, vintners, winemakers and California wine lovers came together to gather at the table – The Grateful Table. On Tuesday, November 21, 2017, Chef Tyler Florence in partnership with Visit California, Outstanding in the Field and many other food, wine and floral vendors came together on the Napa and Sonoma county line to support Napa Valley, Sonoma County and Mendocino County wildfire disaster survivors, as well as to support displaced California restaurant workers. Florence and his crew of hundreds, pulled together the largest wine country vineyard table on record in a matter of days.
California wine country after the fire
The grateful table, set between vineyards in Sonoma and Napa, California, measured 605 feet long, seating 504 grateful guests from near and far. Celebrity chefs from San Francisco, to Sebastapol, Healdsburg, Napa and Oakland contributed seasonal dishes, under the direction of Paula LeDuc Fine Catering, for a family meal that would not soon be forgotten. Clam chowder and fall squash soup started dinner off, followed by platters of fried brussel sprouts, leafy California greens sprinkled with pomegranate, butternut squash risotto, Sonoma turkey with braised carrots and Superior Farms lamb, all 250 pounds of it, in addition to 70 loaves of Acme pain epi bread, in the shape of stocks of wheat, filled the table.
Bottles of certified organic olive oil graced the table, in between bottles of wine, graciously donated from California olive oil producers and local vintners. Conversations flowed with random toasts and raised glasses clinking throughout the multi-course, farm-style meal. California cut flowers brightened the white linen covered table with 150 over-flowing floral arrangements, as stunning as the sunny vineyard backdrop on a postcard-worthy afternoon.
I listened intently as Chef Ken Frank of Le Toque, Napa, shared how he watched the flames grow along his fence line. Anders Hemphill of Superior Farms watched the fire from his Santa Rosa home. These are the heroes who came through the fire and wanted to give back to their tight knit community.
Sonoma County – Life Opens Up
Many of my friends and neighbors have asked how they can help support California wine country after the fire. If you are reading this from out of state, or out of the country, please know that the majority of Northern California wine country was not touched by the fire. The vast majority of wineries, hotels, bed & breakfasts, resorts and restaurants are open for business. Please come sip, savor and support our local businesses. Visit Napa Valley; buy a case of wine, stay at one of our many charming inns, go up in a hot air balloon and dine in some of our award-winning restaurants. Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino County are open for business.
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