Patland Vineyards and the Atlas Peak Fire
As many of you know, devastating fires continue to sweep their way through our precious wine country. The experience has been absolutely surreal. Countless times now I’ve heard people liken this tragedy to living in a nightmare, constantly praying that someone will come and wake them up. Unfortunately, we can’t know when that will be. With fierce winds and low humidity spurring it on, this fire has grown into one of California’s worst natural disasters in recent history.
Selfless firefighters, brave police officers, and caring volunteers are working tirelessly through the days and nights to help those who have been displaced and lost everything. I encourage all of you to do your part in the matter of immediate relief, but I’m writing this for two separate reasons. Too much gossip and fake news has been circulated in the midst of all this—which is no surprise given the challenges in communication people are currently facing. So I will document the Patland family’s experience from start to finish. Straight from the horses mouth.
On Sunday, October 8th, Natalie and I were returning to Napa from a friend’s housewarming party in Sunnyvale. We arrived at the gate to our home on Soda Canyon Road, and just before heading through, Natalie said, “You know, before we move next weekend, I want to drive to the end of Soda Canyon Road just once. I want to see the rest of it.” I turned the car around and we set off into the hills. We were shocked by all the beauty and green foliage that had neighbored us for so long. We never really took the time to go and see it.
As fate would have it, that night everything would change. Natalie was working her shift at Palisades Saloon, and I had joined my parents for dinner at Eiko’s. Just after ten o’clock, we were returning home when we saw a glowing light atop the mountains to the East. The entire ridge that paralleled Silverado Trail was ablaze. Quickly we realized how close that fire was to the Patland Estate, and we rushed to make it back. Not thinking clearly, and hoping for just enough time to salvage something! A third of the way up Soda Canyon, a tree had fallen across the road and there was no way of getting around. We had no choice but to turn back. My dad pulled over in the nearest parking lot, and we watched. In all our shock and the chaos that was breaking out around us, there was nothing more we could think to do but watch.
Minutes later, it occurred to me to call our neighbor and notify him of what was happening. There was no warning of the fire, so there was little time for him to evacuate. When he finally did escape safely, he shared with us a video of the flaming tunnel through which he had to drive. We are so grateful he was able to make it out alright, and that we were already safely on the sidelines. Again, our hearts go out to those that were less fortunate.
Next, my dad pulled up the security feed from the estate on his iPhone. It was like a horror movie—terrifying, but unyielding of your attention. We watched the flames climb up the driveway. We then saw them envelop the grape vines and foliage that adorned the front of the estate. Soon enough, the camera feed gave out, and that was it.
My parents returned to their home in Los Gatos to recoup. Natalie and I drove to her parent’s farm--Impossible Acres--in Davis and spent the night there. Several days ensued of stress, exhaustion, and confusion. Without knowing for absolute certain, we were fairly sure that everything had been lost. One thing after another would remind us of the things we used to own. For Natalie, the worst part was not knowing. We were stuck in limbo unable to even think about the next steps we needed to take because we simply didn’t know what was left. I refused to return to Napa for several days because of the hazardous air conditions, and the constant news of growing fire threats.
On Wednesday, Natalie and I finally returned to Napa and met with police officers at the Knob Hill blockade. They told us that they had stopped taking residents past the road blocks two hours ago, because they needed all available personnel to help evacuate Calistoga. We left Napa again to spend the night with friends in Sacramento, and returned early in the morning to see if they were conducting police escorts once again.
We left our backpacks and respirators in the car, thinking we would first go and ask for a status report. However, we got lucky and an officer was available to take us back to Soda Canyon just as we stepped up. There was no way we were going to risk this chance, so we got in the police car and left.
As we drove through Soda Canyon, we were shocked by the level of destruction. Nothing to see out the window but chimneys and smoldering car husks. Downed power lines and smoking tree trunks littered the road. Every few miles a team of firefighters was working to clear and make safe a new area. The drive to our home had never felt so long. It had never looked so different.
Once we arrived at our gate, we saw that our bridge had also been burned. Only it’s metal skeleton remained, and no car was going to cross it. We pleaded for the officer to let us hike up to the estate. She kindly agreed to escort us up, although she had no idea of the trek she had just signed up for. We walked for about a mile, trying our best not to breathe too deeply. The smoke was thick, and all around us was scorched dirt and melted street reflectors. Finally, we made the turn and could look up to see Terra Del Cuore—the Patland Estate. For a second, we thought it had survived, and then we realized that we were seeing blue sky through the windows of the upper floor.
As we continued, we saw our neighbor's home had been reduced to ash, and we could only hope to find something better when we arrived at ours. We found our gate was left open, and power lines hung from it, strewn all across the gravel roadway. As we carefully stepped past, the first miracle was that my own and my mom’s cars had survived! Parked on the gravel in the center of the property, they were covered in ash, but otherwise entirely untouched. When we looked left though, we saw that the Caretaker’s House—where Natalie and I lived—was not as lucky. The three story building had collapsed on itself, taking with it three of my father’s most treasured cars, his Ford GT, Ferrari 16M, and Ferrari Speciale.
We had little time at the estate, since there were still many others waiting for their chance to return home. There was no time to mourn or to dig; we simply documented with our phone cameras and moved on. The second miracle was that the Guest House was entirely safe! It’s almost as if it were inside a bubble the entire time. As we continued up though, we then discovered what was left of the Main House. The stone walls that made it’s foundation still stood, but everything else was gone. The bedroom, garage, and even the floor of the second story had burned. The pool was black with dirt and ash, and the view we’d all come to love was now overtaken with plumes of black smoke.
Finally, the third miracle was that the wine cellar and all its contents seemed to survive. No leaking bottles and no pushed out corks. Thank God for wine caves!
We profusely thanked our police escort, and returned to our car. A wave of relief overtook us. Finally knowing, and even finding a few things that survived was heartwarming. In times like these, all you can do is plan for the worst, and hope for the best.
So that is the first reason I’m writing. I wanted to clarify our story. The next question is: Where do we go from here? I’ve said this many times in the past week. Our story is only just beginning. We have many more chapters to write. We will rebuild, and we will come out better and stronger from it. We will link arms with our neighbors and do what we can to help those that were less fortunate than us. We hope you will help us.
This brings me to the second reason for writing this. I am overwhelmed by the love and support that has been offered to my family and my community. Everyone is asking how they can help, and I’ve been thinking a lot about that. The focus now is on immediate relief and safety—as it should be! But there will be long term repercussions of this tragedy, and that is where I feel all of you can help. The local economy of our wine country relies on tourism, the production and sale of wine. We are already tallying our losses, and for many the future is beginning to look grim. Wineries were burned down, and that means a lot of people without jobs. Tour services and drivers are seeing cancellations left and right. Future vintages have been compromised. There is so much destruction that is being left in the wake of these fires, but at the end of the day, our economy relies on you. Wineries of all sizes and the people they employ are all relying on you now. If you stop coming to Napa, stop hiring drivers, stop purchasing wine, then this is something many people may not recover from.
Just yesterday, after returning from the wreckage of our estate, Natalie and I went into Knob Hill to get some water. I ran into one of our favorite Tour Driver partners, and she was so happy to see that we were okay. Within minutes though, she was in tears. Her company had about three groups booked per day until the end of November, and all of them had cancelled. This women’s livelihood is now in jeopardy.
So I’ll ask you point blank, don’t abandon the Napa Valley. We will recover faster than you think. Hire tour drivers. Book winery tours. Eat at your favorite restaurants. Buy your favorite wine. Together we'll get through this.
All that said, I know you will rebound and help others along the way. Once again, so glad you're family is physically unharmed and wishing you the best on your road to recovery.