As fires ravaged California's wine country, a couple in Edina desperately sought news about whether fast-moving flames had consumed their Sonoma County winery.
"It was an absolutely horrific scene," said Bill Spell, who owns Spell Estate winery with his wife, Tiki. A fire ignited by embers from other nearby fires cut a destructive swath a quarter-mile wide to within a couple blocks of Spell's high-end boutique winery. Three employees who were there evacuated along with the rest of the valley. "It was chaos," Spell said, as the catastrophic fire crept closer.
Spell, who is getting updates from the valley 2,000 miles away, said it appears that the fire near his winery is out and his business is unscathed. Left unchecked, the fire would have destroyed his business within minutes.
"I think we dodged a bullet," he said. "We escaped the worst of it."
An onslaught of wildfires has swept across northern California, killing at least 17 people, injuring 185 and destroying as many as 2,000 homes and businesses.
Workers in Sonoma and Napa counties have begun picking through charred debris, weighing what to do with pricey grapes after wildfires burned lush vineyards. The extent of the damage wasn't clear Tuesday night because some winery owners were still unable to reach their properties.
About 12 percent of grapes grown in California are in Sonoma, Napa and surrounding counties, said Anita Oberholster, a cooperative extension specialist in enology at the University of California, Davis. But they are the highest value grapes that yield the most expensive wines, she said.
She was optimistic that the fires will not affect the wines to come out of this year's harvest.
Most of the grapes have been picked and of the ones still on the vine, smoke would have to be heavy and sustained to do much damage.
Even then, the damage would be limited to the fruit, not the vines. That means next year's crop should be unharmed, Oberholster said.
As of Tuesday, Spell said his workers have not yet been able to return to the winery located on the northwest outskirts of Santa Rosa.
The Spells, who are avid wine collectors, started their winery in 2006 and have produced their 15th vintage. Spell Estate produces a luxury Pinot Noir, which sells for between $41 to $60 a bottle. It also produces a Chardonnay and a rosé.
Spell expects to visit his winery in a couple of weeks. "I don't know what [the area] is going to look like," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report