One Winery's Tale of Survival From California's Catastrophic 2017 Fires

With their vineyards and beautifully restored 160-year-old hacienda in the path of destruction, two winemaking brothers were about to lose everything. Then agrarian karma kicked in.

The restored 160-year-old hacienda at Scribe. (PHOTO: COURTESY ADAM ROUSE)

Freshly landed in Miami, 3,000 miles from Sonoma, Scribe Winery co-owner Adam Mariani received a call from his wife, who awoke to what she thought was a sunrise only to find the clock reading 1:00 a.m. “As a property owner it’s your worst nightmare to wake up in the middle of the night and see everything on fire and not have any idea what the outcome is going to be,” Mariani says.

He rushed back to the airport to catch a 4:00 a.m. flight, all the while trying to keep apprised of the status of the winery he and his brother spent a decade building. Incoming messages grew ominous: Three fires visible from Scribe; house in the neighboring vineyard ablaze; and, just as his plane lifted out of cell service, “It looks like everything is going to burn.”

With the fire at Scribe's doorstep, an off-duty fire truck arrived and saved the property from certain demolition. (PHOTO: COURTESY CMAC PHOTOGRAPHY)

Much of Northern California had already burned. By their end, the October 2017 fires would claim 44 lives and nearly 9,000 structures—the most destructive in history until this year’s Camp Fire blaze began wreaking havoc in Feather River Canyon. Helpless and unoccupied, those six hours were some of the longest of Mariani’s life. “You’re just wishing the plane would go faster so you can finally get on the ground and see what’s going on,” he says. “But then as you approach the runway you’re dreading when your cellphone kicks back into reception and you get all the messages that will tell your fate.”

Mariani and his brother, Andrew, fourth-generation farmers “enamored with agrarian California,” eschewed the family walnut business and turned their sights to a rundown turkey farm they believed had potential. Applying their passion for farming and a bit of knowledge gleaned from stints on South African and European vineyards, the brothers purchased the property in 2007, took a year to prepare the ground, and started planting vines.

(CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT) The idiosyncrasies standout at Scribe. The staff prepares for one of Scribe's popular guest chef dinners. Visitors are hosted in spare rooms at the hacienda. (PHOTOS: COURTESY ADAM ROUSE)
Beauty in imperfection: Many of the original finishes and details were preserved during the restoration. (PHOTO: COURTESY ALANNA HALE)

The farm’s architectural centerpiece, a 160-year-old homestead built in the 1850s and refaced in 1915, was uninhabitable when the Marianis assumed ownership. Still, the brothers embraced the shabby, neo-Spanish colonial and its vaguely Moorish features, playing host to gatherings of grown-on-site produce and stand-in beer while they awaited their first harvests. When they decided on a complete renovation they turned to David Darling of San Francisco’s Aidlin Darling Design, who called the project internally controversial. “It was thought to be prohibitively expensive to preserve,” Darling says. “Despite that, they saw it as the symbolic soul of the property and felt a strong obligation and passion for its preservation.”

The four-year restoration reflected the Marianis’ preservationist approach to winemaking: the hacienda, like the grapes growing outside, already had everything it needed to be Scribe’s architectural vintage. Where walls might have been refinished, Darling and contractor Bill Shaeffer left them cracked; attic beams burned by a kitchen fire decades prior were left as charred ushers to the hacienda’s storytelling room. “The overarching goal was to uncover old layers and carefully add new ones in a way that gives legibility to the hacienda’s evolution and to enable it to begin to tell its own story,” Darling says. “The result is a living palimpsest that evokes more of the mystery that pervades much of the property.”

(FROM LEFT) A view of the vineyards from inside the hacienda. Meal prep.

Ten hours into the blaze, Adam Mariani didn’t know whether the hacienda’s story was at its conclusion. As his plane descended into cell service, he discovered that an off-duty fire truck two hours south of Scribe, in the Mariani family seat of Santa Clara, had arrived to spare the winery’s structures in what felt like “agrarian karma.”

“That was an emotional moment,” he says. “You can rebuild structures, but the hacienda itself, given its history and its materials, the patina that the building has—which was part of the direction we went with the renovation, to preserve and promote those elements—those things you could never re-create.” The hacienda’s narrow survival meant the Marianis could continue its flourishing guest-chef program, bringing in world-renowned culinary minds to complement Scribe’s impressive spate of Rieslings, Syrahs and skin-fermented Chardonnay. As much as the program is about collaborating with top culinary talent—Ashley Christensen, the James Beard–award winning chef of Raleigh’s Poole’s Diner is a recent example—Mariani says it’s the ideal means of featuring Scribe’s viticulture and hospitality.

“It furthers this idea of showcasing and celebrating our farm: in one place you can sit in this 160-year-old hacienda, be drinking wine that’s grown right out front and eating vegetables that are grown fifty feet away. It celebrates what agrarian California can do through the lens of one farm.”

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