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A Winemaker’s Thoughts on the Fire : A Bond Stronger than Business

From Lowell : Each year our photographer Dawn and I head out to visit a vineyard during harvest. In October 2017 we visited a merlot vineyard that Kenny and Lynn from Hobo Wine Company work with in the Sonoma Valley. The vineyard, and home of Ian Morrison and his wife, is nuzzled into the hillside on the narrow road heading up to Sugar Loaf State Park. It was a beautiful and crisp morning on the 3rd of October, and was an especially fun trip for me because the vineyard happened to be owned by my former high school art teacher at Summerfield Waldorf. Little did we know, less that a week later, the devastating fires of Northern California would lap up to the vineyards edge. After the fires hit, Dawn and I felt like we needed to head back a few months later, to understand what had become of the neighborhood. Over a dozen houses on this small street had been burnt to the ground, some no more than 100 yards from the vineyard and home of the Morrison’s. What can one do but stand in awe of the incredible power of natural wild fires, support those affected, and be thankful when spared.

I asked Kenny to share his thoughts about how the fires affected his relationships with growers and his business.

From Kenny : It would be hard to downplay the role of relationships in any business, but as a winery that does not own our own vineyards or a tasting room, our business is totally dependent on the relationships that we have built. From vineyard owners, to distributors, to restaurants and retailers, these relationships that we have built over the past 15 years have grown beyond business. The people we are working with are friends that we care deeply about.

Our business has succeeded on the merits of being a good business partner, recognizing our partner’s needs, and trying to create and achieve mutual goals. Our partnerships tend to be with businesses and individuals who have similar ethics and objectives to ours. This generally extends beyond just financial gain and into how we affect each other’s quality of life.

Like family, when any of these partners are unwell or under duress, we want to react and to help take part in restoring everyone’s quality of life. During the Northern California fires, we had four vineyard properties being threatened. Though, fortunately, none of our partners were injured and the fires did not reach the vines, we had no way of knowing this with shaky lines of communication and unreliable news reporting. Two of our growers went off the grid for a few days. I wasn’t thinking about whether or not they were alive, but I was really worried and desperately wanted them to return phone calls and let us know they were ok. Their safety was all that mattered. I wasn’t thinking about the vineyards or wine or the financial impact. All of those things that we think we are building these relationships for, that we think are important, become irrelevant when the lives of people you care about are being threatened.

 

Photos : Harvest October 2017, and December 2017 after the Northern California fires
Hobo Wine Company is owned by Kenny Likitprakong and Lynn Wheeler

 

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