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Uncorked: Artesa Winery saved from California wildfires

Artesa Winery is located in Napa, California.
Artesa Winery is located in Napa, California.

Ana Diogo Draper called her mother-in-law and told her to immediately evacuate her Santa Rosa house.

As Diogo Draper watched live news reports on television and received special reports from the sheriff’s department, in a matter of minutes, strong winds and low humidity drove a few small wildfires out of control.

It was just the beginning of a tumultuous night for Diogo Draper, the winemaker at Artesa, a Carneros winery specializing in the Burgundian varietals of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Fire claimed her mother-in-law’s house, and at 3 a.m., Diogo Draper, her husband, two sons and mother-in-law were again on the move. The fire closed in and forced a mandatory evacuation; it was only five blocks from the family’s Sonoma County house.

A switch flipped for Diogo Draper.

“I got into survival mode,” she said via a phone interview the Friday before Christmas.

It was a chaotic scene she said she “hoped to never see again.” Then she heard rumors Artesa had burned to the ground. But because of road closures, the winery was inaccessible. Diogo Draper’s family was safe, but she was in a professional limbo.

Winemaker spotlight

The breakroom at Artesa had turned into a makeshift hotel for firefighters, who slept there for four days as they battled the blazes and put out spot fires. They’d saved the winery, found a resting place and used water from Artesa’s tanks.

For the most part, Artesa escaped with little damage. One of Diogo Draper’s favorite blocks of Chardonnay burned in the fire, along with some bushes and vineyard fencing around the winery. Even the fermenting wines survived without attention from their winemaker.

“We got lucky around the winery,” Diogo Draper said. “Only a couple of vineyard blocks were affected. We couldn’t get to the fermenters for days, but the wines were resilient.”

In the aftermath of the fires, things are getting better everyday.

“It’s incredible the way the community has come together,” Diogo Draper said. “Santa Rosa was hit really bad by the fires. There were dramatic days, weeks and months. But we are slowly getting back to normal.”

Even before the fires started, Diogo Draper had already experienced one of her busiest stints as a winemaker. A heat wave was coming and she’d arranged for her crews to spend the entire weekend harvesting. The grapes had to come in before the heat wave hit. Temperatures under the canopy of their Bordeaux varietals in Rutherford reached 110 degrees. They’d harvest 150 tons and rented an optical sorter to help facilitate the sorting process.

“We worked the whole weekend to beat the heat,” Diogo Draper said. “The acidity of the fruit was really nice. I loved the balance, it’s very complete Pinot Noir. The heat helped to ripen the stems and this vintage we played around with some whole cluster fermentation which we are very excited about.”

With a tumultuous period behind her, Diogo Draper looked forward to the 2016 vintage, which she said “had great concentration and wonderful acidity.”

“It was an emotionally challenging time,” Diogo Draper said. “We’ll replant the vineyard blocks we lost and are going through vine by vine to check on them now.”

While Artesa staff are checking on their vineyards, it’s easy to check in on their wines. Artesa makes 28 wines, 24 of which are smaller production. Even though she seems to do it frequently, Diogo Draper said Pinot Noir is “the hardest to make just right.”

Artesa Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2015 ($35) – Grown in some of the highest vineyards in Carneros on the edge of the Mount Veeder appellation, it’s no surprise the medium bodied white is driven by its minerality. A stone fruit core is complemented by sweet Meyer lemon flavors as well.

Artesa Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2015 ($45) – This wine had beautiful red fruit flavors. Raspberry, strawberry and cherry notes are crisp and fresh. It’s a full bodied Pinot Noir, as baking spices and cinnamon stick flavors accented the fruit. It finished with a hint of bacon fat which was a great touch.

• James Nokes writes a bi-weekly wine column for the Daily Chronicle. He’s been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Contact him at

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