Frey Vineyards – Out of the Ashes

Growing again after the Napa fires of October 2017
Jun 12, 2018 8:05 AM ET
Article

By Katrina Frey, CEO, Frey Vineyards, Ltd.

This true story begins with a strange orange glow in the sky that awakened me at 1:00am on the morning of Oct 9th, 2017. Stepping outside into a howling wind, I watched in horror as a huge wildfire burned on the distant ridge. The wind was blowing away from us, so I was very concerned about our neighbors below the ridge in Potter Valley, never dreaming that at the same time the Redwood Complex Fire was racing around the bottom of the ridge and heading straight to Frey Vineyards and engulfing the only paved road out.

A half hour later, Frey Vineyards was consumed by flames. During that half hour the sixty-five family members and friends, ages one to ninety-three, who were sleeping there that night managed to safely self-evacuate up a dirt mountain road, across seven stream beds to the little town of Willits. Soon after that all the cell service in the area went down, and the roads back to the winery were barricaded, which added greatly to the confusion and the worry.

Tragically, nine people perished in the fire. Redwood Valley only has three thousand residents and 340 houses were leveled. Frey’s historic redwood office buildings, the bottling line and the newly remodeled tasting room, four shops and barns were destroyed, as well as six acres of vineyards and our beloved herd of goats. Also scorched were the majestic oaks leading to the winery and over fifty acres of wooded mountain lands. Of the fourteen family houses on the property, only two survived. Between family members and employees who lived in the devastated neighborhood, Frey Vineyards suddenly had 18 homeless employees, who between them had eleven minor children. The winery quickly made a decision to continue the full-time payroll, anticipating the extreme needs of the employees and their families who had lost houses and knowing how many demands were going to be made on all employees; to finish the grape harvest, reconstruct records, reestablish the crushing and bottling stations, and set up temporary offices. We were very fortunate to have our records stored in the Cloud, so we were able to get our accounting back on track rapidly.

October is our busiest month of the year, harvesting grapes and selling wine across the nation for the upcoming holiday season. We were only two thirds into our harvest season, with tons of grapes still hanging in our own vineyards, as well as in the fields of our certified organic farmer partners. They were frantic about picking their grapes, but all roads to the winery were blocked. Then in a beautiful gesture of solidarity, the other three large wineries in Mendocino County with certified organic processing permits, offered to make space for our wines. Our winemaker raced from facility to facility, overseeing the crushing to assure the wines were being processed to our high National Organic Program (NOP) standards, with no added synthetics such as sulfites. We are so grateful to Barra of Mendocino, Fetzer and Parducci wineries for this invaluable help.

What survived the fire, were the tanks filled with 2016 not yet bottled wines and our 8800 square foot metal warehouse, filled with all our bottled inventory. The fire rushed through so rapidly that the huge stainless steel fermenting tanks holding the just harvested 2017 white wines and early red wines were never damaged. By the end of two weeks, when we were finally allowed back onto the property, shipping could resume. Our awesomely loyal Frey wine fans stocked up, enabling us to finish up the year with 6 percent growth, in spite of the enormous disruption. 

Now here's what next for us and others affected by the fires...

Read the rest of Katrina's first-hand account with additional photos here http://greenmoneyjournal.com/frey-vineyards-out-of-the-ashes

Frey Vineyards, Ltd is the nation’s first organic and Biodynamic winery, founded in 1980. Located in northern CA in Redwood Valley, Mendocino County, the winery produces 200,000 cases of USDA certified organic wine, made with no added sulfites. The company owns one thousand acres; 350 of these acres hold organic wine-grapes and the rest are set aside woodlands for biodiversity and water protection. The wine is distributed throughout the US. For more about the company and the wines visit- www.freywine.com

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