All Changed, Changed Utterly

In the casual ladder I keep that lists what blog pieces I consider writing, the next quick hit was going to be a light-hearted attack on the dangers of the foil caps that top off most of the wine bottles we see everyday, ending with a call to ban the production, sale, and use across the globe.

Then parts of Sonoma and Napa and Mendocino burned to the ground. Many parts of the region, as I write this, are still in flames. Trying to be funny at a time like this just doesn’t seem right. I certainly don’t have an appetite to attempt comic stuff, and I’m pretty sure there aren’t many people who have the stomach to read anything superficial.

Wine Blog - 146

I’m not a grape grower and I don’t make wine. I don’t own a winery and I don’t work in a vineyard. But, in my own small way, I’m a part of the California wine community, and my heart is leaden, my stomach knotted, from what has taken place and continues to play out across the region. Thousands of homes, schools, and businesses have burned. Several well known wineries have been destroyed, and countless others damaged by smoke and flame. Dozens of area residents have been killed. Numbers more lie in hospital beds, their skin and lungs changed forever.

In the past several days social media, and to a much lesser degree mainstream media outlets, have kept the harrowing images of this devastation in front of our eyes around the clock. For better and worse. There is no escaping it. Even for those of us safely removed from the heat and fumes, the terrible power of nature as it marches over hills, down across valleys, and snaking through neighborhoods where life is supposed to be safe is overwhelming. The physical and emotional toll is high and much time will pass before most local residents and communities even begin to heal.

It is not only the daytime sky that seems dark. Life seems heavy and without any reliable source of light. But that’s only if you don’t know where to look.


For as many tales of danger and loss we hear, there are just as many reports of bravery and sacrifice. At a time when people are accused of being isolated by technology and increasingly self-interested, we find our hearts lifted by outpourings of selflessness and generosity. The spirit of being good neighbors, it seems, is alive and well everywhere around us.

Maybe the strength that is on display each day is available because these regions remain, at their cores, farming communities. Despite the growing influx of tourist dollars and glitz, the essential nature of Napa and Sonoma stands unchanged. Patience, durability, resourcefulness, a sense of community – these are among the requirements for life as a farmer. And those traits permeate the region and the wine industry. One more element that is widely shared among famers? Hope. Constant, relentless, deep-in-the-bones hope.

The fires will eventually be beaten back or die out. The air will clear and the rains will wash the soot away. Wineries and homes and schools will be rebuilt. Life, while changed, will go on. And, as happens every year, vineyards will be replanted.


Who knows, maybe these new vines will be among the best our little corner of paradise has ever seen.

7 thoughts on “All Changed, Changed Utterly

  1. the drunken cyclist

    I agree, well said. This past week I have been searching for information on the fires, hoping each time that the news would be positive. It was not until this morning that there was even a sliver of optimism. Hopefully it will be over soon.

    1. Tom Riley

      Thanks for reading, Jeff. Yes, we all hope for this to be over. An age-defining or era-defining series of events. Personally, I’ll be happy to get back to the east bay at the end of the week and not smell smoke. Perhaps I’m being a bit too optimistic.

  2. Don Carter

    Well said Tom. These communities, while battered and bruised, will rise from the ashes. Rebirth is in the farmer’s nature and this close-knit community of farmers knows better than most the resiliency of man and nature.

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