Cork Tree holds benefit for Cali victims

By Jason Hawk -

Fires killed 43 people as they swept across California in early October, consuming more than 300 square miles north of San Francisco.

A close friend whose family owns Buoncristiani Winery in Napa helped put the crisis in perspective for Amherst chef Robby Lucas.

“I ended up talking to him about two hours. He really went into detail about the amount of devastation that’s still out there,” Lucas said.

As he listened, Lucas grew more and more concerned about the toll of the fire — the 8,400 structures burned, the families still without homes, the more than $1 billion in damages.

Quelling the blaze took the combined efforts of 10,000 firefighters who battled flames around the clock.

Lucas, who opened the Cork Tree Tavern this summer in downtown Amherst, was moved by the descriptions of nature’s wrath.

And so he responded to a plea from famed chef Thomas Keller and national food writer Susie Heller to aid the Napa & Sonoma Relief Fund. Lucas agreed to hold a benefit to help the fire’s most vulnerable victims.

None of the funds will go to wineries. Instead, the relief fund is giving 100 percent of all donations to North Bay organizations that support the low-income communities hit hardest by the wildfires.

Among them are the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, community foundations, Santa Rosa Junior College, and Jewish Family and Children’s Services.

“So many families lost everything — their loved ones, their homes, their businesses. The personal and economic impact is staggering,” Lucas said.

To help them, he’ll host the Christmas Charity Gala at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16 at the Park Avenue tavern. The benefit will include a five-course meal, live auction, wine tasting, and wine pairings.

Tickets can be obtained with a $100 donation to the relief fund by calling 440-984-7430. Only 60 seats are available.

The Christmas Gala is also sponsored by the Heidelberg Distributing Company, The Chef’s Garden, Orin Swift, Buoncristiani Family Winery, The Prisoner Wine Company, Gordon Food Service and Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards.

Wine, of course, it a big part of Lucas’ business. In Ohio, many of the preferred wines come from the Napa Valley.

About 50 of the area’s wineries were directly damaged in the wildfires, though just a handful told the Napa vintners association they had experienced significant property loss. About 90 percent of grapes were reportedly picked before the fires started.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

Chef Robby Lucas does a weekly check of the vintages in his wine cellar at Cork Tree Tavern in downtown Amherst.
Chef Robby Lucas does a weekly check of the vintages in his wine cellar at Cork Tree Tavern in downtown Amherst.

Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times

By Jason Hawk