Soda Rock Winery reopens after being destroyed by Kincade Fire in Sonoma County
Courtesy: SF Chronicle
The 150-year-old stone winery and side buildings of Soda Rock Winery burned down during the height of the Kincade Fire on Oct. 27 in Sonoma County. It was the fire’s most high-profile destruction in Alexander Valley, the renowned wine region stretching across Healdsburg and Geyserville — and the loss of Soda Rock was all the more devastating for the history it represented.
Owners Ken and Diane Wilson said they received an outpouring of support from their community. They acted quickly. Luckily, they’d been storing many of their wines off-site. Within days, the Wilsons opened a pop-up tasting room in an outdoor barn on the property, which was still standing — right next to the memorable, 40-foot-long steel sculpture of a wild boar known as Lord Snort.
The Wilsons are contemplative about whether and how they might rebuild the historic winery — for the second time.
“It’s not just a building you can replace by rebuilding with a construction crew,” Ken Wilson said. “It was a historic structure with hidden soul and grace that needed sensitive nurturing to bring it back to its worthy place in history, which took us several years to complete.”
The property dates back to 1869, when a general store was built along what is now Highway 128. In 1889 it also served as a post office. It became a bonded winery in 1880. The barn where tastings are now taking place was built in 1904 from wood salvaged from a nearby property, known as Meeks Winery.
In 1923, the land and winery were sold to Abele Ferrari and Frank Ferrero, who established it as Soda Rock Winery. The two were already well-known throughout Northern California for manufacturing winery equipment at their Healdsburg Machine Shop.
Ferrari’s daughter Rose and her husband, Leo Demostene, took over the winery in 1943 but moved down the road in the 1950s to the Sausal Ranch, which was then planted to prunes, apples, cherries and old-vine Zinfandel. The Sausal Winery and its 113 acres, 75 of which were by then planted to wine grapes, were sold to Silver Oak in 2012.
Neglected for a time, Soda Rock was then operated by Charlie Tomka, Jr. and his parents Charlie and Etza, who ran it until the mid 1980s before it sat dormant again.
The Wilsons bought the property in 2000, taking 10 years to restore it before reopening as the Soda Rock Winery in 2010, offering primarily Bordeaux-inspired red wines and Zinfandel.
The Wilsons also own deLorimier in the Alexander Valley in addition to several other wineries throughout Sonoma County: Matrix, Mazzocco, Pezzi King and Wilson. In Mendocino County, they own Jaxon Keys and Greenwood Ridge. Diane Wilson makes the wines for many of the family’s brands.
At Soda Rock, current flights include wines like the 2013 Founder’s Trio Reserve ($150/bottle), 2015 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($40), 2016 Cabernet Franc ($34) and 2017 Zinfandel Postmaster Reserve ($42). The tasting fee of $15 is waived with the purchase of a bottle.
On a recent visit, tables and chairs were set up in and around the barn, near the fire debris and fluorescent-yellow caution tape. It smelled a bit of smoke. Despite the presence of visitors, the experience felt simultaneously voyeuristic and solemn. It felt strange to look around and see the many neighboring homes, wineries and other structures that remained unscathed.