A table that straddles the county line is moving in its symbolism. What do you hope that communicated?
If we could have crossed Mendocino County, we would have. We just wanted to send a message to influencers and stakeholders that this fire was a Northern California event, and we wanted to demonstrate “wide open arms” in terms of the recovery effort.
We were in the middle of an organic vineyard, the weather was a perfect 71°F, and the orange and gold grape leaves were still on the vines. We had almost 50 members of the media to help give life back to this community that people thought was completely torched. People came from as far as Mexico City and Toronto.
What do you hope people took away from the event, both those who were there and those who could only read about it?
I hope people felt a sense of energy and connectedness and hope, like a new dawn. Part of the fundraiser was that when you bought a ticket, you were encouraged to buy another ticket for a first responder or somebody affected by the fires. We had a lot of first responders there, many of them in uniform. The California Cut Flower Commission provided all the flowers, and the bouquets were spectacular. Each first responder was able to take one home.
Any estimate on the dollars raised? How will the funds be used in the affected communities?
We’re still tabulating, but 100 percent of the table proceeds will go to charity. All the food was donated by farmers associated with California Grown, and the California wine was donated by Wine Institute officers, board members, and Napa Valley Vintners. Visit California underwrote the event, and we let the affected communities choose their charities. There are four in particular: Sonoma County Resilience Fund; Mendocino County Disaster Fund; the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund; and the California Restaurant Association Foundation.
How important is wine tourism to the state’s overall tourism industry?
Fully 20 percent of the state’s visitors partake in wine-tasting experiences. That’s incredible. About 24 million tourists visit California wine regions and contribute $7.2 billion to our state. People come to California because of our wine and food experiences. It’s not just an activity that happens after they arrive.
Six weeks after the fires, are there any misperceptions that persist in the media and in the tourism industry?
The local media have done a pretty good job covering the recovery, but we still have our work cut out for us domestically and internationally. We’ll be spending at least $2 million to get the message out globally through the spring. Very few wineries were actually affected and their product is intact and vibrant.
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