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Ashes and Diamonds

A month after deadly wildfires swept through California's famed wine country, hot-air balloons are floating again over Napa Valley vineyards splashed with fall colours. On the heels of the disaster, a new winery is opening, keeping the name it chose some time ago: Ashes and Diamonds.

The fires had only a minimal effect on the area's wineries, according to the Wine Institute, an advocacy and policy group. Of the 1,200 wineries in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino, about 10 were destroyed or heavily damaged, and 90 per cent of this year's harvest already was complete, the institute said.

Most vineyards were spared due to their high moisture content, and some even helped save surrounding structures by acting as fire breaks.

But many operators are now grappling with other long-term effects from the fires that killed 43 people and wiped out 8,900 buildings: making up for losses from being closed at the busiest time of year, assessing the impact of smoke and other environmental damage on this year's vintage, and persuading tourists to return after weeks of devastating news coverage.

One of the most graphic scenes of destruction to emerge during the fires was that of the Signorello Estate winery engulfed in flames. Lost in the fire was the Napa winery's signature stone hospitality building. A kitchen, corporate offices, a wine lab and the home of owner Ray Signorello Jr. also were destroyed.

"We lost all our servers, systems, computers, the things we used to do business," Signorello said. But he plans to rebuild and is "trying to get people back to work."

"It was a place to come and give each other hugs," said Bundschu, whose own family has been dealing with the loss of her parents' home.

Now the push is on to lure visitors back to the three counties, which together saw more than $3.7 billion in tourism spending in 2016.

Wineries are filling the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle with ads. "We are open and welcome you back to Napa!" read one. Some are donating their tasting room fees to wildfire relief charities.

The state's tourism commission, Visit California, is spending $2 million on an advertising campaign to encourage visitors to return.



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