Here is a fire story you won’t see on the news. It is a blameless tragedy really, as many of the fire stories are, but it is one worth telling because it says something about how we treat animals and maybe how we treat each other.

Thursday at 3:30 I’m setting up a pitch and putt area next to the picnic tables at Nicholson Ranch Winery. I have $76.00 in ice cream, chocolate sauce; whip cream and flowers on the table awaiting my girls’ golf team. It is the end of the year party to celebrate an awesome season and because I’m cheap I’m wondering if I’ll be able to write off the money on my taxes under Trumps new tax plan. Coaches can’t get reimbursed for consumables. Welcome to the world of doing what you love.

Deepak’s team has set up an inside area in case the weather goes south and the tasting room folks are at the ready with complimentary Chardonnay and Pinot for the parents of the golfers. It’s nice to have friends who own wineries.

By 4:00 the party is in full swing (note the cute golf reference), when Jess asks me, “Hey Mr. Williams, are those animals supposed to be here?” I turn and look up the blackened, burned up hill and see four rams cautiously walking down to where my golf team is consuming giant piles of ice cream.

A broken window saved Nicholson Ranch Winery. True story, apparently a window above the tasting room had not been completely closing and when the first smoke began pouring in Sunday night it triggered the fire alarm that summoned the Shellville fire department that immediately sent two trucks. While fire raged all around, the firefighters were able to save the winery. The scene is surreal, Storenetta dairy burned to the ground, Ramona Nicholson’s house burned to the ground, the hillside above the winery, charred and blackened but the Winery was saved, wines are fine. Deepak 1 Fires 0.

Along with the charred hillside are a series of charred fences, which no longer provide containment for animals like the rams, which apparently are indigenous to the area (Carneros is Spanish for ram).

“Is it OK to pet them?” Jess asks

“Better not, they are wild animals.” I say. We all take pictures and try not to scare the beautiful animals. They have one thing on their minds, which is to get to and eat the green grass of our pitch and putt. Their new world is black and charred. By the time we leave the rams are happily eating and drinking next to the lake.

Friday morning I’m back at the winery at 11:00 with my wine tour driver hat on. My group takes pictures while the rams wander around the hillside. Nobody is quite sure what to do so they do nothing, let the animals be. We head up to Kenwood for the rest of the day.

By Saturday afternoon at 4, I’m beat when I pull the bus back into Nicholson Ranch, my last stop of the day. After two days of wine touring, I feel very ready to be off the clock. I had been talking all day with millennials Matt, Jason, Erin and Holly fresh from a week at Dreamforce in San Francisco.

“Yeah, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to buy a house or move to a place like Sonoma (they are from Milwaukee). My student loan debt is crazy and we just don’t make enough to afford the West Coast.” They are MTI DINKS (Millennial Tech Industry Double Income No Kids) and they make me feel old.

They tell me about the inspiring week of lectures and activities at Dreamforce. I tell them about diablo winds, warming oceans, how my Physical Science class is designing a sustainable power grid for Puerto Rico and how I’m looking for tech money to start a dream school,  I ask if they agree that we have become the Seinfeld country, spinning in our little bubbles, accomplishing nothing. They don’t understand this.

I keep having to check myself so as to not go full Debbie Downer before tip time.

Usually Nicholson Ranch at 4:00 on a Saturday afternoon is kind of a party, which is one of the many reasons I like to end my tours there. Today it has gone a bit past that. Deepak is in Portland and the staff is ecstatic but a little stressed with the number of people who have decided that this is a good day to support the winery.

More importantly there are three guys roaming the charred hill behind the winery playing what looks like a game of tag with one of the rams. This does not go over well with me as I have now become rather protective of my new pseudo-pets. I ask Fabien in the tasting room what the hell is going on.

“Bad day for the rams Walt. One of the dogs chased one into the highway and it was hit by a car then a second one was endangering traffic so the highway patrol shot it. Those guys up on the hill are the ones who own the rams, they caught one but the last one is still free.”

My group is off tasting and touring the winery. I sit down in a chair by the lake next to where I had set up the pitch and putt two days ago. I watch the orange sunset, contemplating what it all means.

The last ram is in the hills behind me, alone and free, but not for long.





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