In a year that has seen multiple disasters, due to an act of nature or domestic terrorism, the effect on which these events have had on their respective communities has been devastating.
The healing process is underway in each region, and for those of us in Northern California, it means helping out our friends and neighbors that have been directly affected by the wine country fires.
The message from our colleagues in Napa and Sonoma is clear, “We are open for business!” The underlying message is, “Please help support the thousands of people that have been displaced, and/or lost their jobs along with their homes.”
Many industry associations have been raising funds, sending much needed items such as food and clothing, to help the many people that are struggling. These donations are much appreciated, but what needs to be kept top of mind is what’s needed in the long term.
The long term support can come from those of us that can give them business. Consider hiring people that work in wine country for your events. Consider holding an event of yours in one of the many venues that are very definitely open for business.
As a consumer, consider visiting the local restaurants, shops and wineries that are eager to see you, and shower you with the hospitality for which they are known. If you can, consider spending a weekend at some local hotel and spa. Treating yourself, as well supporting the community is a win-win. The fires are out, but the doors are open and in need of you. If you can, give the gift of business.
We reached out to Suzy Montes at Sonoma County Tourism to find out how things are going on the ground. Here is our interview with her:
Q: Hi Suzy, thank you for speaking with us and for educating us on the current state of the wine country.
First of all, can you give us an idea of where the damage was mainly? Also, many people know you and the Sonoma team. How are your families? Friends?
A: First, thank you for your concern. All of our families and friends are ok and the entire Sonoma County Tourism staff is doing well.
The majority of Sonoma County – some 90% of it- was not directly affected by the fires. Recall that Sonoma County is more than one million acres in size and includes a lot of backwoods areas. The fire was mainly in these mountainous, backwoods areas that are beyond where most visitors will ever go. In a few weeks, as the grass starts to appear on the hills with the winter rains, most people won’t be able to know that those areas were part of the natural fire cycle of California, especially since a lot of the oaks are fire resistant and used to this.
Q: Which wineries in Sonoma were affected? What is the current status of these wineries?
A: Out of our more than 425 wineries, only one was burned. And that one still has a tasting room in Kenwood (a small town in the Sonoma Valley). They also have their outdoor sculpture garden that is still there and a venue for weddings and meetings. They have been talking about getting it back up for some outdoor events soon and begin rebuilding their production area and the tasting room that they lost.
Q: What about the hotels? I know that the Hilton Sonoma was a complete loss but will they rebuild? What about any other properties? Any other damage?
A: While we unfortunately lost hotels – the Hilton and the Fountaingrove Inn would be the ones known to SCT customers – we actually aren’t losing a total number of hotel rooms because we have several new hotels coming online. Already with the new Oxford Suites in Rohnert Park, the Holiday Inn in Windsor, the boutique Astro Hotel in Santa Rosa and some more projects opening soon, we actually will have 12 more rooms in our inventory.
Q: What’s the best thing about visiting Sonoma right now?
A: November through April is our shoulder season, so in addition to special deals (sonomacounty.com/deals) from our hotels and restaurants and wineries there is also more time to explore our area. Recall that we don’t get snow and in winter our hills turn green and the wildflowers come out in late January through May. It’s also Dungeness Crab season so a lot of the chefs are incorporating our seafood on the seasonal menus.
You can find current, downloadable photos and videos of Sonoma County, taken after the fires, here:
Q: The holidays are coming up and there are so many displaced families and businesses affected. What can we do in the hospitality community? What is the best place to find out how we can help and what might be needed?
A: There are two main ways to help. First – you can give directly. The Redwood Credit Union North Bay Fire Relief Fund (https://www.redwoodcu.org/northbayfirerelief) is a great way to help local families. Secondly, and a way that can really help everyone, is to actually visit Sonoma County and support our local businesses. More than 20,000 residents work in hospitality and 91% of our tourism businesses are locally owned. When visitors come here and support the tourism economy they are actually helping working families. We want you to come visit!
For meeting planners we have our new “Sonoma Strong Meeting Incentive.” This is where we take our current meeting incentive that offers up to $4000 to a hotel master account for a qualifying meeting, and on top of it the hotel will offer up an additional $2000 donation to the North Bay Fire Relief Fund on behalf of your group. This is a great way to get Sonoma County back to work AND help with relief, so it’s win-win.
Director of Business Development