Legacy of Art and Wine
When siblings Rene Byck and Sonia Byck-Barwick heard Paradise Ridge Winery had burned down in the Tubbs Wildfire, it was the strength of their family and community that helped them feel the love in the air. With the estate vineyard and sculpture gardens spared, the siblings and their family plan to rebuild the winery. Just months after California’s most destructive fire in history, Rene and Sonia embody what it means to be resilient.
What was it like growing up on the family ranch? Did you get along?
Sonia - We’ve always been close. There’s five kids and Rene and I are the youngest two. Our mother had five kids within five and half years.
Rene - My first girlfriend was her best friend. And one of her boyfriends was one of my good friends. We went to college and travelled together, and now we’ve been working at the winery together for 20 years.
Most interesting or rewarding aspect of working with a sibling?
Sonia - We work together really well. We both have different strengths, which really helps. Sharing things together. All the experiences. Actually now I’m going to get teary-eyed, because I can’t even imagine what this would be like if Rene didn’t work here.
Rene - We can count on each other and speak openly. If we have concerns, there can be tensions but I don’t ever remember us ever fighting. Ever. We’re both empathetic and compassionate. If Sonia feels strongly, and I don’t, then we’ll do what Sonia wants and vice versa. It kind of works itself out. We’re yin and yang-ish.
Are your children interested in pursuing art, winemaking, or farming?
Rene - My kids are young and Sonia’s are teenagers but all of our kids have stomped grapes. It’s a fun thing to do with the kids.
Sonia - I have a photo of my mom and daughter stomping grapes. It’s a family tradition.
My daughter is an artist and if you ask my son where his favorite place on earth is, he’ll say it’s this property and the lake because he loves nature and fishing.
Our parents didn’t buy this property to become winemakers. What they were looking for was a property with some type of water— stream, river, or lake— and they happened to find something 10 minutes from where we grew up in Santa Rosa. They didn’t want to become sheep farmers so they thought, we’re in wine country so why not plant vineyards? It was not this big thought-out plan.
Have visitors been surprised to find a world class sculpture garden at a winery?
Rene - It’s very rare that we would drive to and from work and not see people enjoying the sculpture gardens. It has become more and more popular, especially when the Voigt Family Sculpture Foundation came in and there were more permanent pieces, it feels a bit like burning man.
Everything in the grove is for sale and here on consignment. The sculpture gardens support the artists. We sold a quarter million dollars worth of art that supported the artists before the Voigts joined us. We hope to reopen the sculpture garden to the public soon.
Why do art and wine make a great combination?
Rene - When I was in graduate school we did a project on the winery and one of the things we were shooting for was a cultural wine lover, someone who likes more than just wine. Someone who likes the arts and is interested in culture. We feel like it all goes together: art, history, nature, and wine. A lot of people who enjoy fine wine also enjoy fine art.
What was the public’s reaction to hearing the winery had burned?
Sonia - The fires completely changed how everything is looked at. As a winery, although we knew people loved coming here, the extent of that love has been unbelievable. Everywhere I go people talk about taking their family pictures here, coming up to the sculpture grove, being here on special occasions...marriages, engagements.
To recognize how important we’ve been to the community; that was not clear to me before. We were working really hard to do that, to keep my parent’s legacy of sharing this beautiful property with everybody going, but we didn’t realize we’d been successful in that.
Rene - We didn’t think about being a landmark in the community. We were doing what we thought was right with the guidance of the family and our parents. And then the winery burns down and we hear “it’s a landmark” and “you guys are a symbol of resilience”.
Now that the winery is gone we have so many people reaching out to say how important it was. It makes us feel good. It wasn’t the plan, but now the winery is even more entrenched in Santa Rosa history. We have an opportunity to make things better and I feel like the community is completely behind us. The winery is going to be in this community for a long time. Generations, I hope.
“We’re going to make the winery even better than it was before so all these people have somewhere amazing to come visit soon” Sonia Byck-Barwick
What is the status of the Estate Vineyard?
Sonia - The last pick was the morning of the fire, so we were literally just finishing harvest and then the fires happened. Just three out of 15 acres burned and we’ll replace those vines. When you stand up at the winery and see the view of the vineyards, it hasn’t changed dramatically. We think most of the trees will come back and that it will be very similar looking to before. We lost 8,000 cases of wine at the winery but having our vines is huge. Being able to do the next vintage, even though we lost the ‘17’, gives you hope.
The number one thing people can do is don’t cancel your trips to Sonoma County. Buy Sonoma County wines. Come stay with us. There’s this real, sharing, giving community that we’ve all created. We’re donating some of our wine sales to fire relief too. We don’t feel like victims. We’re survivors. Sharing what we have with our community is really important.
Rene and I are hurting because this is our community. It’s not about 20 more cases of wine; it’s that we’re part of this beautiful community: Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, Santa Rosa. We’re so embraced by them and we embrace them back. That is what makes you want to get up every day after all of this. We’re going to make the winery even better than it was before so all these people have somewhere amazing to come visit soon.
Paradise Ridge wines are available online or in-person at the Paradise Ridge tasting room in Kenwood. The Kenwood wine tasting experience features a selection of wines from the Russian River Valley Estate and Rockpile AVA. For the latest information on Paradise Ridge visit www.pr.com.