HAWK AND HORSE VINEYARDS IMPACTED BY VALLEY FIRE
Surrounded, but vineyards and structures survive the fire
Lower Lake, Lake County, California, September 2015 --- Hawk and Horse Vineyards’ 1,300 acre ranch was surrounded by the Valley fire which began on September 12. Hundreds of acres of pristine forest on the property burned to ash, but the vineyards are mostly unscathed; structures and livestock all survived unharmed. “Our ranch foreman, Miguel Angel Chavez, along with a brave neighbor, Brian Case, who owns a heavy equipment yard adjacent to our ranch, carved a fire break which protected the developed portions of the ranch property from the fire,” explained Tracey and Mitch Hawkins, co-founders, and proprietors, along with the Boies family. “I spoke with fire fighters and no one can explain why the vineyard – which is now completely surrounded by charred forest - was spared. It is a miracle. We did take every precaution we could: we had our drip irrigation on since word of the fire, and we do have roads surrounding the vineyard which may have helped to serve as a fire break. But we found large charred leaves and dead embers in the dry grass. Why this did not burn we will never know – but we feel very thankful. Our heart goes out to all of our neighbors who have been more severely impacted by this fire,” they added. The Hawkins and their brave vineyard crew continue to put out hot spots on the swathes of land surrounding the vineyard with shovels to prevent reigniting of flames in the area of the vineyard.
Hawk and Horse Vineyards was evacuated on Saturday. The Hawkins family was on site at that time. They then were evacuated from their home in Angwin very early Sunday morning. On Sunday, they were allowed to return to the Lower Lake ranch and vineyard to check on animals and vines. The cattle were let loose and herded to safety on the far side of the ranch. The horses were penned in a large sand arena which would have protected them from fire should it have reached that portion of the ranch. “We were just so blessed to have arrived at the ranch Sunday morning to be greeted by all of our livestock alive and well,” said Tracey Hawkins. “It was heart wrenching to have to leave them Saturday night even though the fire was well away from our ranch at that time. We made sure that we did our best for them before evacuating. In the end, had we moved them to our Angwin property we would have had to move them again because a mandatory evacuation hit there in the middle of the night,” she added.
VINEYARDS: Of the 18 acres, 13 were already harvested. Five acres are scheduled to be harvested next week. “Because the fruit was well into verasion and the fire passed through our land which surrounds the vineyard at such a rapid rate, we expect the fruit from those last five acres to be just fine,” said Tracey Hawkins. The vineyards are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (15 acres planted in 2001), Petite Sirah (1 acre planted in 2007), Cabernet Franc (1 acre planted in 2007) and Petite Verdot (1 acre planted in 2007).
Because the vineyards are grown according to biodynamic practices, any damaged vines will be treated with specialized nature-based protocols once the harvest is completed.
LIVESTOCK: The ranch is home to 42 head of Scottish Highland cattle.
The ranch is also home to two American Quarter Horses and three American Saddlebreds. On Saturday, there were an additional three horses on site which had been evacuated from a neighboring ranch. “We continue to welcome local horses needing shelter,” the Hawkins say.
BUILDINGS: The historic tasting room-house was not damaged by the fire nor were the traditional log home, the arena, stable and out buildings.
VEHICLES: None of the winery’s trucks or equipment were damaged.
MIDDLETOWN: Unlike erroneous news reports, the commercial area in Middletown is mostly intact although an unspecified number of homes have been destroyed. Private water trucks have been lined up in Middletown’s Central Park waiting to be directed as needed. , Central Park – a rodeo arena – was also set up as a staging area for fire crews. The Middletown High School was set up as a PG&E staging center.
DONATIONS: “What we have heard is donations are pouring in. The response both from within the community and from without is beyond generous! From animal feed and offers to vintners for use of crush facilities, to a bride-to-be who lost her home receiving her entire wedding through various donations, to semi-truck-loads of feed for horses and cattle - the outpouring of compassion and love is powerful,” says Tracey Hawkins. “I think that as people's situations change over the days to come, the needs will change. Saturday and Sunday, people needed basics like water and clothes. Now housing and furnishings are important. Red Cross is coordinating shelters and donations,” she adds.
“Lake County has a strong community of generational farm families. I cannot express accurately the degree of grace, strength and hope these people are exhibiting in the most extreme of circumstances. Neighbor helping neighbor with anything and everything. What I am seeing is devastation and great resilience. All around our vineyard is black. And yet our vineyard stands, green and jovial, as if in defiance of all that darkness,” she added.
“The neighborhoods are dotted with homes burned to fine powder - and then you'll see a house or a building unscathed. Most people placed life over property and focused on getting family out and animals to safety. I believe this is one reason we are hearing of only one casualty in spite of the rapid pace of the fire and massive destruction to property. Being a farming and ranching community, livestock is ample in Lake County - and cherished. I have seen people turn their backs on their homes to rescue and protect horses, cattle and pets, notwithstanding personal safety,” adds Mitch Hawkins.
“We can see miles and miles of black in some directions - sometimes dotted with an oasis of untouched ancient forest of pine and oak. In other directions we can see miles of ancient forest dotted with small patches of black with ominous smoking tendrils curling skyward. I am also seeing fire crews work their hearts out, working as though each home or ranch were their own. Young men with bloodshot eyes and blackened faces, captains with calm assurance and compassion. They are hiking up mountains and hills to access remote hot spots wearing several pounds of equipment and armed with shovels. Teams of fire trucks pass by, moving crews from place to place trying to contain the fire's still hot edges. Truck and trailer rigs are back and forth moving livestock to safety - more yesterday than today, though there is still movement of animals to safe haven - and some back into areas that were evacuated but not burned,” Tracey continues.
Hawk and Horse is a family-owned and family-operated vineyard and ranch which was founded in 1999 by the Boies and Hawkins families. The first release was 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyards straddle slopes from a 15% grade to 85%, at elevations up to 2,200 feet, situated in the Red Hills AVA of California.” An unusual aspect of the property is that the soil literally glitters, due to the abundance of Lake County “diamonds,” tiny silica fragments which are the remnants of volcanic activity from the Mayacama mountain range and nearby Mt. Konocti, a now dormant volcano,” Tracey Hawkins explains. Hawk and Horse Vineyards has been Demeter-certified since 2008 and California Certified Organic (CCOF) since 2004.
The winery’s wines can be found in limited distribution in selected markets around the country, including California, Texas, Hawaii, Nevada, New York, Washington DC, Colorado, Georgia, Florida and Connecticut.