NorCal tourism industry struggles to lure visitors back to wine country after deadly fires

ByEric Thomas via KGO logo
Thursday, November 9, 2017
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Officials with Sonoma Co. are working to bring tourists back to the county a month after the deadly wildfires destroyed homes and land.

SONOMA, Calif. -- A month after the North Bay fires ripped through Northern California, Sonoma County's tourism industry is struggling to lure visitors back to the wine country.

They're trying to get the word out that they're open for business.

"It was dead, it was dead," Debra Eagle said.

That's how the general manager at BR Cohn Winery in Glen Ellen described business in the weeks during and immediately after the North Bay Fires. Flames burned up to the property line, but left the buildings and most of the grapes untouched.

Still, potential visitors - especially those from outside the Bay Area - don't seem to know the fires bypassed most of the popular tourist attractions.

"Flames only reached three of the 113 wineries in Sonoma County," said Jonny Westom, executive director of the Sonoma Visitors Bureau.

He added that two of them will be reopening soon.

October is one of the busiest times of year in wine country. It's when grapes are harvested, and fall trees begin to change colors.

But, Brian Montanez, general manager of the Eldorado Sonoma Hotel, said people he's talked to seem to believe the whole city was destroyed, when most of the damage took place in the hills, away from the town plaza and attractions.

Things are beginning to improve, though.

Tourist bureaus in the North Bay are stepping up ad campaigns and reminding visitors that promotions and other incentives will be offered in the next few weeks in hopes of bringing visitors back.