The smoke wasn’t quite as thick this year in wine country, but the love needn’t be any thinner. That spirit was on full display last weekend when I stopped by Soda Rock Winery, having heard rumor of a “pop-up” wine tasting, and found the parking lot nearly full, and the grounds teeming with wine tasters sipping caramel-scented Chardonnay. I could hardly get an elbow on the bar.
Yep—that Soda Rock, the Alexander Valley winery that recently burned down in the Kincade fire of October 2019. Turns out, the historic redwood barn adjacent the winery, although it leaks daylight through its spindly boards, rebuffed the flames (with the help of firefighters who arrived in the nick of time) and still stands, only slightly singed. With my nose in a glass of red, cherry-fruited Postmaster Zinfandel, I stroll over to inspect the site of the wine’s namesake. Soda Rock’s stone facade was originally built as the area’s post office. And it wasn’t really a winery when embers jumped across Highway 128 the week before. “Soda Rock primarily was an events center with a fabulous tasting room,” explains Antoine Favero, winemaker and general manager for Mazzocco Sonoma, where he also makes Soda Rock wines. “So the good thing is that we still have some juice. Unfortunately, we did have case goods there.” The Wilson Artisan Wineries group owns Mazzocco and Soda Rock.
“I went there yesterday and it was not a good day,” Favero says. But he’s sanguine about the future. “We’re going to pick ourselves up and rebuild and keep on going!” For now, he’s focused on the challenges that power outages, evacuations and smoke present for the 2019 vintage. “We were very, very lucky this year, because about 97 percent of the grapes had been picked before the fire,” Favero says. “The bad thing was, yeah, we had to leave some behind,” because of smoke tainted grapes, he explains. “But you can’t win it all—it’s just the nature of the beast right now.”
Grapes safely picked and crushed, however, were bubbling away when the power went out. “I grew up in South America, where every other day we had a power outage,” Favero shrugs. “So I don’t freak out. But in the United States? It’s kinda going back to my third world country.” Modern wineries control temperatures with cooling systems to guide fermentations to suit the winemaker’s style. “This is something brand new for me. I have never, in my 30 years of winemaking, been away from my fermentations for eight days,” Favero says. He could check on them nearly every day, but do little else. Nevertheless, he feels that the high quality of the fruit this year will prevail. “Whatever we had in tank before the fire, I think is going to be wonderful.”