Thinking of Napa and Sonoma: A Wine Lover’s Thoughts on Supporting Californian Wine Country in the Aftermath of the Wild Fires

Wild fires are just that: wild. They devastate some areas yet weave past others leaving them apparently untouched. But of course even the ‘untouched’ areas of Napa and Sonoma have been touched by smoke in the air, by uncertain futures, and by the knowledge that others have lost their lives, their livelihoods, and that these areas will never be the same again.

California’s Napa Valley and Sonoma mean so much to wine lovers all over the world. I can only imagine the heartbreak California is feeling as images of orange blazes hovering over bushland appear on the internet, the television, and for some (or rather, many), in the not so distant distance.

If you’ve ever been to Napa and/or Sonoma, you might be checking on the internet and Facebook pages of wineries you visited to see how they have been affected. You might be reading reports on the fires on wine blogs and even reminiscing about your time in these famous wine regions.

Viansa Winery in Sonoma

Entire neighbourhoods have been devastated and some winery buildings or parts of them have been destroyed, left in ashes, including precious wine libraries. This reminds us all how life can change in an instant. Although it appears many vines have survived (since they are green vegetation that does not burn as easily as dry grassland), we cannot underestimate the psychological impact these fires will have on the entire region and further afield.

I think about this because I remember the people I met in Napa and Sonoma—the winery workers, the wine makers, the restaurant staff, and so on. I also think about this because my work as a psychology academic is studying how people adjust to highly stressful and traumatic life events, such as wild fires. (Wine is a hobby for me.)

Inside Domaine Chandon in Napa Valley

Psychology research (including my own empirical work) shows that not only do those directly affected by wild fires experience posttraumatic stress symptoms, such as intrusive thoughts about the fires and destruction, but so too do those indirectly affected, including those who have witnessed the fires and destruction on the television and through social media.

Although it is difficult to consider now, and it by no means minimises the pain and suffering of those in Napa and Sonoma and beyond, but many people affected directly or indirectly by wild fires eventually identify benefits from or ways they have grown from their experience. These benefits are often in the form of becoming more compassionate toward others and being able to see the best in others—that others are supportive and work together to help re-build the community.

Indeed, survivors and witnesses of wild fires often report increased community closeness. There are signs already of the community love that is possible in the affected areas, such as a sign on a Sonoma lamp-post that reads, “The love in the air is thicker than the smoke.”

Domaine Chandon in Napa Valley

So for those of us wine lovers on the other side of the world, we might feel helpless about the Californian wild fires, but what we can do is offer our support, our love, to Napa and Sonoma and other affected counties such as Mendocino. We can listen to and read the stories of those who experienced these wild fires and want to share their struggles, their triumphs, their growth and their sadness. And we can buy wine from these affected areas and/or plan to visit Californian wine country in the coming years, which were two suggestions made by people in Napa.

These actions are not much, but it might be a way to say, Napa and Sonoma, you are in our (my) thoughts.

Napa and Sonoma, you are in my thoughts. This photo was taken at Viansa, Sonoma, in 2012.

Feature photo: Cline Cellars in Sonoma

More about Christina

I am a psychology scholar interested in what makes life both pleasurable and meaningful. I suppose I am an epicurean in the sense that I like good food and wine; but, like the philosopher Epicurus, who actually advocated for tranquility, my international wine and food adventures are more about finding peace than anything else. They are about connecting with others, connecting with the earth, and practising self-compassion. My favourite grape variety is Nebbiolo, I love the way poetry expresses our common humanity, and I believe it's possible to find love in each micro-moment of life. So perhaps it was inevitable I would create this site called Falling in Wine.

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