San Diego

San Diego Wineries Host Benefit to Help Winery Workers in Northern California

The brunt of the destruction was to residential and personal property, damage deeply felt by many of the winery workers.

Two dozen San Diego wineries are holding a fundraiser Sunday to help workers devastated by the October wildfires in Northern California.

Most vineyards were not heavily damaged, in part because vineyards have a high moisture content, and acted as firebreaks. 

Most of the grapes were also spared from the wildfires. In Sonoma and Napa counties, 90 percent of the grapes were already harvested because of the extreme heat in August and early September.

The brunt of the destruction was to residential and personal property.

That damage is deeply felt by many of the winery workers.

Knowing this, winery owners in San Diego came up with an idea to help out their colleagues.

"A lot of these winery workers don't really have insurance claims, or they've been displaced from their jobs temporarily," said Samantha Nawrocki, Marketing & Advertising Director at Bernardo Winery, in Rancho Bernardo. "They might not have big insurance claims, they might not have an insurance claim at all, but they and their families are affected by the fires."

On Sunday, Bernardo Winery will host a Wine Aid benefit along with 23 other San Diego wineries. The event will offer wine tasting and food from local restaurants.

All of the money raised will go to winery workers through a fund created by the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation.

A portion of the proceeds will also go to the Sonoma Humane Society, which is working to reunite pets with their families.

Local wineries hope Sunday's fundraiser will also give people a chance to learn more about San Diego's growing wine industry.

"Some of these are wineries that might not even have their own tasting rooms, that are up in the hills, people can come and taste the wines that they've never tasted before," explained Nawrocki.

"The (San Diego) wine industry has made a really big resurgence, especially in the last 15 years where we've gone from 10-11 wineries, to now, we're over 110 in the county," said Ross Rizzo Jr. President & Winemaker at Bernardo Winery, which was founded in 1889.

Much of the growth can be attributed to small wineries opening in county jurisdiction. 

In 2010, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors revised the wine ordinance, making it easier and cheaper for smaller farmers to open a boutique winery.

Budding winemakers are discovering the soil and climate in many parts of the county, such as Ramona and Highland Valley, provide ideal conditions to grow grapes.

The influx of wineries has also allowed winemakers to experiment.

"A lot of the wineries in San Diego are growing and making different styles of wine and different varietals," said Rizzo.

In Northern California, wineries are asking people to visit and support the wine industry.

Most tasting rooms in Sonoma and Napa are open for business.

A thriving wine industry in San Diego and Northern California is crucial to the entire state.

According to the Wine Institute, California produces 85 percent of the wine in the United States.

Tickets for Sunday's Wine Aid benefit at Bernardo Winery are $50 per person online. Tickets at the door are $60 (cash or check only). Tickets for designated drivers are $25. 

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