Grapes of Wrath

Lola Wines' Nancy Cripe on Surviving the Napa Wildfires

"We walked outside to see the sky ablaze with red and orange fire and flames."

December 27, 2017

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Nancy Cripe

Nancy Cripe woke up one morning in early October to a frightful scene at Lola, the Napa Valley vineyard founded by her son, winemaker Seth Cripe.

“There was no power, and we walked outside to see the sky ablaze with red and orange fire and flames,” Nancy says. “There was smoke and ash in the air.” The blaze was roaring just a half mile from Lola’s 10 acres near Calistoga, a small town in the northwest corner of the valley.

If winemakers in Northern California experienced any bit of good luck during the wildfires, it was this: The inferno came toward the end of the growing season, and most grapes had been picked. About 90 percent of the fruit in the Napa Valley had been harvested before the wildfires picked up, Nancy estimates.

“The only thing still hanging on the vine was the Cabernet grape, which is picked late,” she says. Another stroke of luck: The skin of the Cabernet is thick, so the flavor of those grapes won’t be affected by exposure to the smoke and haze that blanketed the region. “It will be exciting in a few years to taste that wine,” Nancy says. “It’s a year that everyone will remember.”

The fires forced Nancy and others at Lola to evacuate. They spent four days camping to the south. “We were the lucky ones,” Nancy says. In the Santa Rosa area, “there would be structures burnt to the ground, but then next door something standing like nothing even touched it.”

Overall, the California wine industry as a whole fared well, according to Nancy. The fires, and the media attention around them, did more damage to local tourist businesses like restaurants and spas. “Napa is still as beautiful as ever,” Nancy says. “Certain pockets were devastated, but as a whole it’s stronger and better.”

Lola is participating in this year’s Forks & Corks, which takes place Jan. 26-29. Click here for ticket info.

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