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Malibu Coast AVA Devastated By Woolsey Fire – Some structures saved by vines

By Lewis Perdue with extensive assistance from the Malibu Coast Vintners and Grape Grower’s Alliance

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Jim Palmer’s Malibu Vineyards, Nov 13, 2018


Vineyards and wineries in the Malibu Coast AVA have been heavily damaged or destroyed by the still-raging Woolsey fire in the coastal hills west of Los Angeles.

Neglected by the California Wine Institute, and once demonized by Los Angeles County politicians as “an ugly environmental disaster,” some members of the Malibu Coast Vintners and Grape Grower’s Alliance (MCVGGA) have reported that vineyards served as firebreaks that saved homes and other structures.


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Image: Fire Tracker. Click image to visit updated map

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Best available AVA map at deadline. red line denotes AVA perimeter.




According to the association, it has more than 50 members and — before the fire — had a total of about 200 acres of vines. The Malibu Coast AVA encompasses 44,590 acres within the 182,000 acres of the Santa Monica National Recreational Area in Southern California.


According to one estimate, 83% of the park lands within the National Recreation Area have burned.


According to Cal Fire, (as of this morning), the fire has burned 96,314 acres with 35% containment. 435 structures have been destroyed and another 57,000 are threatened. Those numbers are expected to change this morning as damage estimates are updated.

Most members of the MCVGGA members surveyed so far report extensive damage, sai an association spokesman

50% of MCVGGA members surveyed

“We are still in the process of gathering information from our membership about how they fared in the fire” says Greg Barnett, President of the MCVGGA and owner of NABU winery in Westlake Village. “We have been in contact with at least half of them, and we’ve learned there’s been extensive damage to virtually all of the vineyards and wineries throughout the AVA.”


“We are thankful that there were no reports of injuries and that everyone’s family got to safety before the inferno reached their property,” Barnett said. “The speed with which the fire escalated was terrifying. Having just gone through the most difficult harvest in the history of the AVA, it is dispiriting to have it followed up by such a devastating fire. We hope that our members are able to move on from this and rebuild. Some were more fortunate than others but we’re doing what we can to help each other out.”


Of the vintners Barnett has spoken to, he said that damage reported has ranged from burnt vines around the perimeter of vineyards, all the way up to total devastation of vineyards, residences, and outbuildings. The destruction is particularly in evidence along the Kanan Dume corridor running from Agoura Hills to the ocean, but Lobo/Triunfo Canyon and Corral Canyon have also sustained substantial losses.


At this time the area remains closed to non-emergency vehicles and power has not been restored in much of the region, but Barnett said the Alliance will continue gathering information to ascertain the level of damage to vineyards within the AVA.


The MCVGGA has provided the following report about member experiences so far:

Vineyards save House and Barn

Richard Hirsh, owner of Cielo Vineyards,  near the corner of Mulholland Highway and Kanan Dume Road credits his vineyard for saving his house and barn.


“Most everybody around me is gone” Hirsh said. “Without a doubt, being surrounded by 10,000 vines saved my house and barn.”


“We turned the vineyard’s drip irrigation system on and began soaking our olive grove as soon as we got word that the fire was headed our way,” said Hirsh. “I’d planned to stay, but when you see the ferocity of 100 foot flames, you feel their heat and the absolute roar of the sound I knew that no way could I stick around to try to save the property. It’s such a violent thing and we were hit hard.


“We’ll probably need to replant 3,000-4,000 vines,” said Hirsh. “All the stakes burned down, the posts are gone, the netting virtually evaporated, and the irrigation hoses melted away. But the vineyard protected the house. From Cielo you see everything within a couple of miles, and it’s almost all destroyed. My heart goes out to see Saddle Rock, across the street, and they just lost everything but the animals … ouse, vineyards, everything. Even with the significant damage we sustained, we feel like we were spared and we’re going to replant and rebuild.”


“Complete Devastation”

“It’s complete, total devastation up here, no real good news to be found anywhere on my block” says Jim Palmer of Malibu Vineyard. “My vineyard was in Decker Canyon, and the entire place is all burned out, with 15 houses gone. Anything in the canyons is totally wiped out. I’m speechless – a friend who’s a fireman sent me a picture of what’s left of my house and vineyard and everything’s just ash, totally leveled. “

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Malibu Vineyards . Photo by Jim Palmer, grape grower and owner.

“Stayed behind and saved the house and vineyard”

John Gooden’s Montage Vineyard is on Winding Way, between Latigo Canyon and Kanan Dume road. Gooden said he “stayed behind and saved the house and vineyard. No fire trucks came to our neighborhood the night of the fire. Southern California Edison shut down the power about 6:45 pm and we lost all water pressure to the pumps. We used shovels and picks to fight the flames back until water came back on early Sunday morning and we spent all day fighting hot spots. It’s a moonscape around here today, very surreal. Thank God for the wine cellar in the house! I’ve been drinking as much Malibu Coast wine as I can.”

Fire singed vineyard, took Guest House  but home still standing

Krystian Orlinski of South Slope Malibu Winery on Foos Road said that his vineyard received a little damage and the flames took his guest house, work shed, and water supply, but his house is still standing and his wife and kids are safe in a hotel away from the danger. The veteran Reuters reporter was on assignment shooting video of the fire a mile from his vineyard when he got trapped in a firestorm.


“I almost lost my life” he said. “A huge blaze on the Malibu golf course basically created its own weather, an immense tornado-like fire storm. I was recording visuals from the bottom of a long driveway off of Mulholland when the wind shifted, and the only escape was back up that driveway. I’ve worked for Reuters for 28 years, doing my time in the war zones and covering difficult stories, but this was just a whole other scene.” Orlinski has already placed a deposit on the material necessary to rebuild his water tanks and reestablish the vineyard.

Relevant previous articles gathered by Wine Industry Insight