Buena Vista winery in Sonoma Valley, founded in 1857, is considered the birthplace of California wine. The cavernous cellar, carved into a hill by Chinese laborers, has survived earthquakes, several owners and last month's fires in Northern California.
Now, the black tree stumps and scorched hills right next to the winery's buildings show just how close the flames came — less than 30 feet, says Tom Blackwood, general manager at Buena Vista.
"The fire could not have come any closer without hitting the buildings. Buena Vista was surrounded by flames," says Blackwood, who credited firefighters with saving the winery, which withstood untouched.
"We are so lucky."
But since Buena Vista reopened a couple of weeks ago, Blackwood is facing another problem: a big drop in visitors. During the month before the fires began, Buena Vista saw 6,000 visitors, says Blackwood. But since the winery reopened about two weeks ago, only 500 visitors have shown up.
"If the fires hadn't happened we would probably see about 50 or more people here at the bar," says Blackwood, gazing at the winery's relatively quiet tasting room. "What do we have here, like six people now at the bar?"