Not waiting for the smoke to clear | News | Palo Alto Online |


Not waiting for the smoke to clear

Local restaurant, wine bar owners rally to help North Bay fire victims

Midpeninsula restaurant and wine bar owners are pitching in to help North Bay residents suffering from devastating wildfires, pictured above. Photo courtesy Zack Bond/Mountain View Fire Department.

Last Sunday afternoon in downtown Mountain View, close to 100 miles south of the North Bay fires that have left unimaginable damage in their wake, customers gathered at Savvy Cellar for a wine tasting.

Owner Holly Orchard poured a sparkling wine from Mendocino County, a chardonnay from Healdsburg, a cabernet from Alexander Valley and a merlot and petit verdot from Napa Valley -- all areas that have been impacted by the fires. In an interview, she said she hoped to help customers draw the connection between the wines they enjoy and the far-reaching need for support in the regions they come from.

The fires have had a "chain reaction" impact, Orchard said.

"It's not just the wineries and people working at the wineries, it's the whole community -- everything from agricultural workers to local grocery stores and restaurants. There are so many connections and so much reach," she said.

Midpeninsula wine bars and restaurants are part of that ecosystem. Many of them source products from North Bay wineries, farms and other vendors, and beyond that, are members of the Bay Area's close-knit food-and-wine communities.

In the wake of the fires, numerous local restaurant and wine bar owners have sprung to action, launching fundraisers, donation drop-offs and efforts to raise awareness and support.

Orchard launched an online crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the Napa County Firefighters Association. She chose to support firefighters, she said, in order to have as wide an impact as possible and to highlight a group that might be overlooked in the immediate aftermath of the fires.

"I just think of how much this is going to deplete their resources in terms of equipment and overtime pay," she said. "I thought this would be a way with my minimal influence ... (to) at least make the biggest impact."

Her goal is to raise $2,500; to contribute, go to

At Pizzeria Delfina in Palo Alto, the restaurant is collecting donations of non-perishable food, new or unused clothes and blankets, gift cards and other items. Owner Craig Stoll is one of several San Francisco restaurant owners and chefs who teamed up to coordinate thousands of food deliveries and donations. Their website,, includes information about what food is needed and where, volunteer sign-ups and other organizations in need of donations. They're also raising money to partially reimburse smaller restaurant owners who want to donate food but have tighter margins, said Greta Miersma, Delfina's communications director.

Collectively, the SF Fights Fire effort has delivered about 17,000 meals in less than a week, Miersma said. The food is primarily going to people in shelters, but some restaurants have gone out of their way to feed first responders or people who may be fearful of going to official shelters, such as undocumented immigrants, she said.

"The needs are greater than delivering breakfast one day or dinner the next, which is where you come in," the SF Fights Fire founders write on the website. "As a group, we are harnessing the power of our community of restaurants and food purveyors with the idea that by focusing all those who are wanting to help, we will be most effective.

"This tragedy will not define us, our response will," they wrote. "Any action, no matter how small, is helpful and greatly appreciated."

Recognizing that more action will be needed beyond the first days, or even months after the fire, the Delfina restaurant group is preparing to be able to continue to provide food as the needs arise, on a daily basis, "however long they need us," Miersma said.

All Pizzeria Delfina locations, including in Palo Alto, will soon host a by-the-glass event where wines from the affected regions will be sold, with all proceeds going to impacted wineries.

Biondivino Wine Boutique, though primarily an Italian wine shop, quickly started collecting donations at both its locations in Palo Alto and San Francisco after the fires started. There was an "overwhelming response," said general manager Tyler Kavanagh.

They drove "two jam-packed carloads" of face masks, eye drops, pillowcases, diapers, flashlights and other items to distribution centers in the North Bay and will be doing a third run this week, he said.

Despite an announcement on Instagram last week that the Italian-focused Biondivino was "breaking ranks" to get California wines into the shop, they were unable to do so.

"Due to the destruction up north, almost all wine distributions warehouses (which are based in Napa and Sonoma) have been shut down for over a week -- we haven't been able to receive any wine, in fact," Kavanagh said.

Miersma said wine deliveries were also halted at Delfina's restaurants last week.

Biondivino has stopped accepting physical donations for the time being -- relief agencies are now saying they're in need of gift cards, and are overwhelmed by the clothes, food and other items that have been sent -- but will notify customers if they start again, Kavanagh said. Moving forward, the wine shop also plans to stock a small selection of North Bay wines, with proceeds going to fire relief efforts.

Palo Alto restaurant Bird Dog is also highlighting wineries that have been affected by the fires with a dedicated by-the-glass menu. The list currently features wines from Mayacamas Vineyards, Storybrook Mountain Vineyards, Gundlach Bundschu and White Rock Vineyards, with plans to add more.

Lori Romero, owner of Palo Alto wine bar Calave, said she's seen a "massive influx" of customers ordering wines from Napa Valley and Mendocino County in support. She's considering other ways to help, including a fundraising campaign and partnering with distributors to "align plans where we can see the biggest impact."

Long-term, she said she potentially anticipates "higher prices from the fire-impacted regions while it looks at the road to recovery."

Downtown Palo Alto wine bar Vino Locale on Kipling Street is also collecting gift cards for Target, Safeway or any other stores where food, toiletries, and basic necessities can be purchased.

Three local restaurants owned by Bacchus Management Group -- The Village Pub and The Village Bakery in Woodside and Mayfield Bakery & Cafe in Palo Alto -- will donate all dinner proceeds on Wednesday, Oct. 25, to the North Bay Fire Relief Fund. The restaurant group also created a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds.

"The San Francisco Bay Area is our home, and we are devastated by the recent fires affecting our staff, friends and family, as well as our extended community of farmers, vintners, and ranchers," an event description reads. "Any amount counts."

Palo Alto Italian restaurant Vina Enoteca will be hosting a fundraiser this Saturday, Oct. 21, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in its outdoor courtyard, said owner Rocco Scordella. Dried pasta, cookies made by the Vina Enoteca pastry chef and baked goods from local pastry chef John Shelsta will be on sale. The restaurant will be serving sangria and meatless Impossible Burgers. All proceeds will go to the Napa Valley and Sonoma County Community Disaster Relief Funds, which support impacted residents and businesses. Scordella said he is also donating 20 percent of lunch sales from both of his restaurants, Vina Enoteca and Tootsie's, to fire relief efforts.

Jarad Gallagher, the executive chef at Chez TJ in Mountain View, spent last weekend at a friend's house in Calistoga, cooking meals for firefighters, friends and family. Some people just wanted to stop by, he said, "to have community and say 'hi,' (to) be normal."

He said he plans to ride out the immediate wave of donations and support and step in to support smaller, independent farms and producers when that initial spotlight fades, perhaps in the new year.

"The main media focus has been on the big-name wineries. Up in that area, the people who are really going to struggle are the lower-income workers. They're out of work for quite some time," he said.

"Those are people we're going to go after and help -- farms that are going to struggle to pay their employees."

Gallagher said it was personally "overwhelming" to be in the North Bay last weekend, but he's confident that the region will rebound.

"I think the biggest worry in life is that people are OK, and then you start rebuilding," he said. "Yes, there's going to be long-term effects but ... I know the wineries and the farms up in that area are very resilient."

Though the extent of damage to the North Bay wine industry remains to be seen, some owners are already concerned. Some wineries have been destroyed, while other facilities or property were damaged or closed temporarily during the worst of the fire last week. Though most of the harvesting has been completed, vintners who had to evacuate have been unable to tend to their grapes during the wine-making process.

Orchard said she and customers talked on Sunday about what this year's wines from the impacted regions will be like.

"We were discussing: 'Will there be a 2017 vintage or what will the style be?' It probably won't be what people think of as a quintessential Napa or Sonoma wine, but I would also encourage people to continue to seek out the wine, to go to wineries as soon as they're open, to give business to the local area ... as a long-term effort to help the whole community grow again," Orchard said.

Every person interviewed for this article urged the same, particularly for those who might be unsure where to direct their support: patronize the region's wineries, farms and producers.

"Drink lots of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino wine," Kavanagh said.

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Like this comment
Posted by Trish
a resident of University South
on Oct 19, 2017 at 10:42 am

Great article, very informative and showing an expanded community spirit from the greater Bay Area.



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