'It's devastating': Sonoma winery vows to rebuild after wildfire

Thanks to security video, Rene Byck knows the exact time the wildfire reached his family’s Paradise Ridge winery in Sonoma County, Calif.

“The flames hit the doors of the winery at 1:52 in the morning on Monday,” recalled Byck, who runs the vineyard with his sister Sonia Byck-Barwick.

Soon after, the fire had completely destroyed the family business’s two main buildings: the winemaking facility and the tasting room/event center. It’s where Byck watched his kids stomp grapes, hosted weddings and made wine for nearly 20 years.

And now it’s gone.

“I don’t feel like I was in shock, but sometimes I can’t tell if I’m numb or not. Obviously, it’s devastating,” Byck said. “I have many friends who lost homes, all their personal possessions. Those are the people who lost the most.”

Owner Rene Byck looks over remains of his Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa, Calif., on Oct. 10. (Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Byck said his family and staff are safe, and that their 15 acres of vineyards were barely touched. He hopes for and anticipates a fairly normal harvest next spring, and plans to rebuild what they’ve lost.

“We can rebuild the winery, but our neighbors, the community that supported us for 25 years, that whole area is gone. There’s no houses. It’s total destruction,” he said.

Slideshow: Wildfires destroy Northern California wineries >>>

Wildfires have been raging through California wine country since Monday and have leveled entire neighborhoods and destroyed at least 3,500 homes and businesses. It’s also killed at least 31 people, and that number is expected to rise. More than 400 people are missing from Sonoma County alone.

Byck’s parents, Walter and Marijke Hoenselaars Byck, purchased 155 acres overlooking the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County in 1978 and called it “Paradise Ranch.” Inspired by their love of wine and appreciation for the region, the Bycks started planting Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay — eventually opening Paradise Ridge in May 1994. Since then, countless visitors have enjoyed their wine during personal celebrations in their courtyard while looking out over the expansive vineyards.

Now there are more than 20 fires burning across eight counties in the deadliest wildfire event in the state’s history. Paradise Ridge is one of at least 13 wineries that have been destroyed.

Winemaking equipment at Paradise Ridge stands in rubble after being destroyed by the Tubbs fire on Oct. 11 in Santa Rosa, Calif. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Tubbs fire, which is now considered the deadliest single wildfire in California since 2003, broke out about 10 minutes from the winery, which it ultimately turned to ash. The returning strong winds have caused the fires to grow quickly. Firefighters are still struggling to control them.

The National Weather Service said that winds up to 60 mph, relatively low humidity and warm temperatures will create “critical fire weather conditions” and “contribute to extreme fire behavior” for Friday and Saturday.

Slideshow: Deadly wildfires ravage Northern California, threaten wine country >>>

Byck, his wife and their children live in a voluntary evacuation zone of Santa Rosa. Their bags are packed in case the fire comes toward their home.

“Survived another night. The house is still standing. One day you feel safe. The next day you don’t,” Byck said. “The next day you’re worried about something else. You think it’s going away, but it’s still hanging around. It’s weird. I’m sure it’s traumatizing my kids too.”

As for the family business, Byck said he has a second tasting room in Kenwood that is still standing. He hopes that it can be an outlet for his wine after everything dies down.

View of Paradise Ridge winery in Sonoma County. (Photo: Courtesy of Rene Byck)

“We can rebuild the winery. We can build our business back. We have a lot of goodwill in the community and around the world, it seems,” he said.

Right now, however, his thoughts are with the community that has supported him, including those who lost far more.

Slideshow: Scorched earth: Aerial views of the California wildfire aftermath >>>

“Seeing the neighborhood and surrounding area completely devastated, that makes more of an impact on me than the winery,” he said.

To help victims of the fires, you can donate online to the Sonoma County Resilience Fund here or the Redwood Credit Union here.

Charred wine barrels sit on racks at Paradise Ridge Winery after being destroyed by the Tubbs fire on Oct. 11  in Santa Rosa, Calif. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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