GEORGE BALLING: The fires: Part 2

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After more than two weeks since the devastating fires burning through Northern California wine country started we are starting to get a clearer picture of the scope of the devastation. As winemakers, winery workers and residents of Napa and Sonoma counties are able to gain access to their properties the damage reports are on the rise, they will likely continue to do so. More so than actual winery damage the toll on housing and residents is far more brutal.

The sheer scope of the devastation has led the dinner party and Fleur de Sel Restaurant in Post Falls to put together a benefit for friends, wine industry colleagues and all those affected. On Sunday, Nov. 5 from noon until 5 p.m., come by Fleur de Sel and for a minimum donation of $20 per person, enjoy a bowl of Laurent’s cream of butternut squash soup with California almonds and a balsamic glaze and a glass of wine from Kenwood Winery. 100 percent of the proceeds will go to North Bay Fire Relief a charity set up to donate to all the victims. To ensure we can donate every penny, we are asking that tickets be purchased with cash or check so no credit card processing fees will be incurred. You can buy tickets in advance here at the dinner party or at Fleur de Sel. Tickets will be available at the door also.

We chose to pour Kenwood wines as after more than two weeks this tiny enclave of 1,200 people in the heart of the Sonoma Valley is still under mandatory evacuation with fire still engulfing the hills around the town we lived in before moving here to open the shop. Highway 12 the main route through the valley still remains closed in spots as it is the primary route for first responders as they continue to battle these deadly blazes.

As the blazes come under containment and the smoke begins to lift the damage assessments are becoming more clear. For every tragic discovery though we are learning of some bright spots. We learned just this week that Storybook Winery on the Napa side of Mt. Veeder lost the building housing all of their library wines, a financial hit that is difficult to even estimate. At the same time we saw a Facebook post from one of our friends showing the historic Chateau at Chateau St. Jean in the heart of Kenwood and steps from our former home still standing relatively unscathed! The significance of this one building surviving such a devastating fire cannot be overstated. While it no longer housed any winery operations it is one of the most iconic images in all of Sonoma Valley and represents so much for Wine Country as an industry.

Early on we had heard that many vineyards were burning. This struck us as odd. Vineyards are lush and green, there is plenty of water stored in the vines and irrigation hoses and pipes run through most all of them. As the news developed this week we did learn that not many grape vines actually burned for just this reason. The vineyards provided a beneficial green space buffer to keep the fire at bay sparing many winery structures.

Housing is likely to be the biggest challenge for so many of the residents of Napa and Sonoma Counties. The latest count is over 6,500 buildings destroyed. This includes both homes and businesses. The toughest part is where all of the displaced will go as the rebuilding starts. The vacancy rate in rental properties in the seven-county area affected by the fires is a scant 1 percent. This as 20 times that amount of the housing stock is simply gone, destroyed. So while wineries will come back, vineyards will be replanted and this large swath of the California economy will recover given time, where do the residents go as they attempt to piece their lives together. This is the reason for the benefit we are putting together on Nov. 5 and we hope you will join us and help so many that are affected.

The impacts to wine supply and the economic effects on the industry will show themselves as time passes. Right now though this remains an issue centered on people, on their humanity, as so many deal with the loss of their homes and sadly in many cases their loved ones.

If there is a topic you would like to read about or if you have questions on wine, you can email George@thedinnerpartyshop.com, or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d’Alene Press.

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George Balling is co-owner (with his wife Mary Lancaster) of the dinner party, a wine and table top décor shop located by Costco in Coeur d’Alene. George worked as a judge in many wine competitions, and his articles are published around the country. You can learn more about the dinner party at www.thedinnerpartyshop.com. Be sure and check out our weekly blog at www.thedinnerpartyshop.com/home/blog-2. You can get all of these articles as well as other great wine tips by friending us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.

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