If you want to be reminded about what it means to really love wine, read Adam Lechmere’s report on the aftermath of the Glass Fire and recovery efforts at Cain Vineyard.
Until I saw it, I hadn’t realised how completely Cain Vineyard & Winery had been erased from Spring Mountain. There is, almost literally, nothing left. One of Napa’s – the world’s – finest wineries is now a concrete apron bearing the footprint of the big stainless-steel tanks, plus a couple of gateposts. About a tenth of the 90 acres (36ha) of vines survives, and nothing at all remains of the house, the winery and its attendant buildings.
Lechmere tells the story of the frightful night in 2020 when winemaker Chris Howell and his wife Katie Lazar had to abandon their efforts to save the winery without a minute to spare, and he documents the devastating loss of personal items not to mention the entire 2019 and 2020 vintages as well as half of their library wines, much of it uninsured after the fires in 2017 and 2018 caused insurers to refuse to renew their policies.
Yet, recovery is in progress.
This year they will crush about 50 tons, from 10% of estate vines that survived and from bought-in grapes. Howell talks about resilience, about his staff – many of whom have been at Cain for decades – who lost their homes but have no thought of leaving. Replanting is under way, and the winery will be rebuilt further down the hill, where they can tunnel into the hillside for caves.
My wife and I had the privilege of spending the better part of a day with Chris Howell at his winery in 20018. He is one of the most thoughtful winemakers I met while researching Beauty and the Yeast and his perspective deeply informed many chapters in that book. (Here is my account of that visit) I was deeply distressed when I heard of their devastating loss.
Chris is at an age when he could have given up after suffering such a loss. It is testimony to his character and love of wine that he is still looking forward.
While he’s clear that they will ‘recapture some of the best of what the Cain vineyard has given us’, he’s also grasping the opportunity to look at other varieties, like Grenache, Tempranillo and Barbera. And others that ‘might be found anywhere around the Mediterranean basin – Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Georgia, Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, Morocco’. He adds: ‘This is purely an adventure, something to play with while we consider what might be best as we redevelop.’
If the holidays are a time of hope, Lechmere’s article is a timely reminder of hope’s power. It has certainly made my holidays a little brighter.