Although the Zaca Fire is estimated to be contained by August 3, that doesn’t mean there weren’t some scary moments for people in Happy Valley – as Happy Canyon is called when a 31,000-acre fire isn’t burning nearby. The area is the furthest east region growing grapes in the Santa Ynez Valley – you might want to call it the sideways part of Sideways – and has been growing in acclaim as the place to grow Bordeaux varietals. But on the night of Monday, July 16, everyone on Happy Canyon Road north of Baseline Avenue was told to evacuate. That area includes some of the hottest (no pun intended) vineyards in Santa Barbara County – Westerly, Vogelzang, and Dierberg-Star Lane.
Nicole Lincoln, project manager at Dierberg-Star Lane said, “The Dierbergs do have their residence at Star Lane and they didn’t evacuate, but all other people did.“
In an email response to questions, as the winery is bottling even while the fire rages on, winemaker Nick de Luca admitted, “Contingency plans are somewhat free-form. Basics: We’ve cleared a dozer line around the perimeter of the property and we have charged our frost control sprinklers, which would be started if the fire were to approach the vineyard. All of the most valuable antiques have been removed from the Dierbergs’ house to an offsite warehouse.”
Just the regular weather in this area of the county can be spooky, however. Lincoln said, “It gets so windy at our vineyard in the afternoons that it always scares me. A week ago it looked like this huge grey-brown mushroom cloud of smoke was heading our way and I thought, ‘That’s not good.'”
Fortunately, smoke was the worst of what Dierberg-Star Lane had to put up with. Although the smoke left everyone’s eyes burning on the Friday the 13th weekend, according to Lincoln, de Luca said, “The ash is no more a danger to the grapes than is dust from the vineyard rows. Common problems resulting from dust are mites and inhibited photosynthesis. However, on Monday and Tuesday of last week [July 16 & 17] I sent my crew home early because of potential health issues caused by all the airborne particulate matter.”
The good news is the fire should have little effect on grapes, and in turn, the wines. “At this point, because of topography and the large buffer zone of burned materials around the area, the fire looks to be no real threat,” de Luca asserted. “It is rare even to see smoke plumes from the ranch. In terms of wine quality, I can see no obvious causal relationship.”