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Where Are They Now? Frey Vineyards After the 2017 California Wildfires

by Shawna Rodgers |
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“We are lucky to be alive, and to still be in business,” says Katrina Frey, executive director of Frey Vineyards. Almost two years ago, Frey Vineyards fell victim to the 2017 California wildfires, the costliest in the state’s history, with over $9 billion dollars combined in damages claimed and property destroyed. 

The fires took down Frey Vineyard’s historic redwood offices, tasting room, bottling line, wine library cellar, barns, machine repair shop, and storage sheds. “Our friendly herd of goats perished,” along with “many chickens and some pets who couldn’t be found during the emergency evacuation,” Katrina notes. This might be the most heartbreaking aspect of these catastrophic fires; many families lost their four-legged companions in addition to property and possessions. Katrina lists additional losses. “Frey lost all of a beautiful unharvested crop of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot to smoke taint.” Nineteen Frey employees lost their houses. “Most of the loss for Frey Vineyards involved buildings and equipment. We were very fortunate that all 64 people who were asleep on the ranch that night managed to escape over the mountain road that turned to dirt and crossed seven stream beds.” Frey retained its metal warehouse filled with bottled wine, along with the large, jacketed, stainless tanks holding the white wines and Pinots of 2018—a small silver lining to behold. 

Frey tells us that rebuilding began as soon as possible, but the record-breaking rains of the following winter 2018 season, “kept the soil so waterlogged that it never dried out enough to pour the slab for our new facility until recently.” They poured slab for the first time to rebuild part of the Frey Vineyards facilities just this past June. Always the optimist, Frey is quick to find gratitude. “We are thankful for all the rain.” 

Frey       Vineyards 2019_singed-vinesFrey Vineyards Singed Vines

While dry soil was a rarity during the rebuild, the wine business was overflowing with community support. Three local wineries banded together to support Frey’s rebuild, helping the 2018 harvest go much more smoothly than anticipated. Frey’s organic growers who were outside of the line of fire were able to bring their grapes to the BARRA of MendocinoParducci, and Fetzer facilities. Frey’s husband and Frey Vineyards’ winemaker, Paul, “raced from facility to facility to oversee the organic handling of the fruit. We are so grateful to these local wineries and dear friends that helped us through it.” 

When the CCOF Foundation asked Katrina Frey how organic farmers, producers, and California residents can take action to mitigate future destruction from fires, floods, and other natural disasters, her response echoed what countless organic and biodynamic farmers advocate today: “We all know that organic soils rich in humus are nature’s protection against both drought and too much precipitation. Our vineyards fared well after the fires and may have even benefitted by an addition of carbon to the soil.” Frey continued, “Fires and floods are part of the cycles of nature and common sense precautions should be made. If you are in an area subject to forest fires, it’s a great idea to found or join a fire-safe council and get everyone on the farm involved. I would advise everyone to read their insurance policies and try to update them to current values. We should also do everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint for future generations. Some of our solar arrays survived the fire and we hope to get them on our new winery with the eventual goal of being 100% solar, with the possibility of buying into wind power.”

Frey’s answer begs consumers, policymakers, and farmers to consider: what are the long-term benefits of farming organically? As detailed in the CCOF Foundation’s Roadmap to an Organic California: Benefits Report, healthy soils and biodiversity have been found to increase farm resilience to extreme weather. And as California gears up for another fire season, resilience in the face of weather adversity is invaluable to our local food supply. 

We cannot change erratic weather, but we can protect our soils. We can support one another during hard times. And, we can choose how we respond to the world in the face of debilitating loss. We can move forward, like Frey Vineyards, and continue giving back to the community, knowing that all energy on our planet is shared. 

Not even a full two years after the fire, Frey Vineyards continues to generously support the CCOF Foundation’s Future Organic Farmer Grant Fund. Katrina Frey explains, “Frey Vineyards had a huge loss, but we are still standing and see a bright future. That future needs to involve all of our country’s organic farmers and is dependent upon the next generation of farmers coming up in the ranks and being successful.” Our shared future is made all the more brighter by businesses like Frey Vineyards. 

The CCOF Foundation thanks Frey Vineyards for renewing their support of the Future Organic Farmer Grant Fund this year, proving just how critical it is to do whatever we can to support the next generation of organic farmers and producers as they enter the changing landscape of agriculture in the United States.