In many areas affected by the fires, the damage was indeed widespread. But watching the coverage from afar, you'd have thought that the entire region lay in ruins.
"People everywhere saw these terrible images from the fire," says Rene Byck, the co-owner of Paradise Ridge Winery. "But the farther you were from here, the worse you thought things were. People thought, ‘Sonoma County's gone.' But we're still very much here."
Set in the hills above Santa Rosa, in a residential district that lost more than 1,400 homes, Paradise Ridge was the only Sonoma County winery destroyed in the fires. But it soon emerged as singular in other ways.
The morning after the flames tore through, Byck—whose parents built the winery in 1994—toured the property and confirmed his fears: The winemaking building was gone, as were the tasting room and event center, three homes, and several smaller structures.
Another of the winery's showpieces survived: a sculpture garden in a meadow at the heart of the decimated grounds, featuring a number of large installations. For years, the Byck family had kept the sculpture garden open and free to the public. They made it available gratis for local nonprofit fund-raising events. Weddings had been held there, as well as countless happy impromptu gatherings.
On Byck's morning-after visit, the meadow smoldered. Fire-felled trees were strewed across it. But the artwork was still standing, most notably a 12-foot-tall steel sculpture spelling out L-O-V-E.
The image of LOVE among the ruins went viral. Spotlighted in press coverage near and far, that sculpture became a symbol of the wine country's strength.
Across the region, the fires summoned a renewed spirit of community. Neighbors opened their doors for one another. Restaurants and hotels offered food and shelter to displaced families and first responders. For Rene Byck and his family, it was like something out of a Frank Capra film: Long recognized for their generosity, they were bombarded with donations and good wishes.
In October 2018, on the first anniversary of the fires, the Bycks pulled permits to break ground on a new tasting room and visitor center. It is slated for a ribbon cutting this fall.
Visitors to the new facility will be encouraged to make reservations. "Given a chance to step back and take stock, it was clear that we can provide a better experience if we're not surprised by a big group just dropping by," Byck says.
The fires were like that. They gave people a chance to reassess. Some decided that the price of rebuilding was too high. Others redoubled their commitment to the region. State legislators now favor controlled burns and other long-tabled fire-mitigation measures, though it's still uncertain how or when such practices will go into effect.
More immediate have been the personal reactions, and those mostly boil down to shifts in perspective.
"Losing the material stuff, that's been hard," Byck says. "But what really gets me emotional about this entire experience are all the little gestures of kindness we've received along the way. There's a sense that we're all in this together, and it's a big part of what makes me want to be back up and running, and even stronger than before."