Sunday, July 8, 2012

Flames Level Highly Regarded Foothill Winery

John Smith just saw fire destroy his winery, but he was taking a long and philosophical view of the loss: "The only real damage is emotional. Nobody was hurt and we are fully insured, but it was very hard to see all that wine and all that work we put into it go up in flames," said Smith on Sunday morning, a day after the blaze gutted his Oakstone Winery in the Fair Play district of southwestern El Dorado County.

Fire guts Oakstone; photo via owner John Smith
Cause of the blaze isn't expected to be pinned down for a couple of days, but Smith is speculating that it will be found to be electrical.

He estimates that the total loss will be in the neighborhood of $3 million. In addition to the hillside structure that housed production facilities and tasting room, the losses included 4,000 cases of wine from the past three vintages. Some 2,000 gallons of wine in stainless-steel tanks alongside the winery, which were to be bottled Tuesday, were ruined by heat and debris from the fire. "They will not survive," says Smith.

Crews of the Pioneer Fire Protection District responded at about 4 a.m. Saturday. A neighbor who was walking his dog saw the glow of the blaze and alerted firefighters. The explosion of a five-gallon propane tank on a forklift subsequently awoke other neighbors.

A few vines close to the winery were singed by flames but this year's crop was largely undamaged. Smith isn't sure how he will handle this year's harvest. He owns a second winery nearby, Obscurity Cellars, but it likely is too small to accommodate this year's crop, and it lacks a tasting room. Also nearby is the old Granite Springs Winery, now dormant, so he may be able to lease space there pending reconstruction of Oakstone.

John and Susan Smith built Oakstone in 1996 and opened it in 1997. Since then, Oakstone has been recongized by wine critics and wine competitions for its steady and clear interpretation of such Sierra foothill signature wines as zinfandel and petite sirah, as well as varieties not usually identified with the region, like cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Oakstone's single most popular wine is an everyday blend marketed under the proprietary name Slug Gulch Red, after the road in front of the winery. In May, the Oakstone Winery 2011 Lemley Ranch Vineyard Pinot Grigio was named the best El Dorado County wine in the El Dorado County Fair commercial wine competition. Since then, in hopes of spreading his dwindling stockpile of the wine through the summer, Smith had taken the unusual step of limiting sales of the wine to two bottles per person. The 100 or so cases of the wine that he still had on hand was lost in the fire.

1 comment:

  1. I've visited Oakstone several times and hope the the Smiths will be able to rebuild quickly so they can turn their attention back to what they do best – producing consistently excellent wine. Best of luck and let us know when we can visit once again.