Napa Earthquake Causes Major Winery Damage

Napa Earthquake Causes Major Winery Damage
AP Images

Barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon at the B.R. Cohn Winery barrel storage facility after an earthquake hit Napa Valley.

A 6.0 earthquake hit Napa Valley at 3:20 a.m. local time this morning, injuring at least 120 people, six of them critically, and causing considerable damage, including loss of inventory, at local wineries. Numerous gas and water line leaks were reported, some roads buckled, several buildings sustained major structural damage, approximately 15,000 households in Napa and Sonoma counties lost power, and the earthquake is being blamed for at least half a dozen fires, sevewral of them destroying homes and mobile homes.

The epicenter of the quake, the most powerful in this part of California since the Lomo Prieta quake of October, 1989, was reported to be along Milton Road in the salt marshes just south of Napa County Airport and adjacent to the wineries that dot the rolling hills of the Carneros region. Early photos are being posted on the Internet of damage to barrel cellars and the stored bottles in wineries around the city of Napa and Oakville, including the esteemed Silver Oak Cellars, which lost much of its irreplaceable library collection of older vintages, as bottles tumbled to the floor and shattered. Images from up-and-coming Matthiasson winery in Napa showed a cellar strewn with barrels tossed about by the quake. Trefethen and other wineries just north of Napa reported damage, as did some storage facilities serving multiple smaller wineries.

For the some 800 wineries in Napa Valley, the time of day the earthquake struck — early morning, when almost no one is inside the winery cellars — was fortunate, but the time of year could hardly have been worse, as harvest is just beginning. Wineries most affected by the damage have twin problems: trying to save wine still in barrels and tanks and also repairing and restoring fermentation and storage equipment needed for the new vintage. Nevertheless, many opened their tasting rooms to tourists on Sunday afternoon.

Bouchaine Viineyards in the Carneros, less than a mile from the quake’s epicenter, posted on Facebook that "The barrel rooms are a bit of a mess, and there isn't any power, but we're all OK." In the Stags Leap district, Robert Sinskey of Robert Sinskey Vineyads along the Silverado Trail, reported said, “It’s a big mess, but all safe.” Bruce Neyers of Neyers Vineyard in Sage Canyon reported, “All is OK. Lost some wine.” For many winemakers, there were twin losses, as many reported damage within their residences as well.

“At this time, our priorities are to provide information and resources to our community and our members while compiling and assessing information on behalf of the Napa Valley wine industry,” says Cate Conniff of the Napa Valley Vintners Association. “We expect to know more in the next 24 to 72 hours.”

When asked about the harvest in progress, Conniff stressed traditional neighborliness of area vintners. “You can bet that if one neighbor has damage, and another neighbor can help, what needs to happen will happen,” she says. “There are decades and decades of this collaborative spirit already in place.”

Napa was hit harder than other nearby regions, though the quake was felt throughout the North Coast. “Sonoma is better than Napa, where there was more damage,” reports Hélène Seillan, winemaker at Sonoma's Cenyth, owned by Jackson Family Wines. “I felt like I was on a boat, my bed rocking back and forth and shaking so hard!”

Restaurants and hotels in the Napa area were also hit hard, although generally less so than the wineries. Some restaurants reported significant breakage of glassware and wine bottles, but the larger worry for those without backup generators was food spoilage. Among the worst hit was Don Perico, a Mexican restaurant in Napa, which had significant structural damage.

Outside Napa city, the restaurant situation was much better, although power was still as issue Sunday night. Thomas Keller’s iconic French Laundry tweeted, “We are safe and sound in Yountville. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this earthquake. You have our support.” 

Napa hotels, some of which evacuated guests immediately after the quake, told tales of expensive guest-room televisions being thrown to the floors. The tallest building in town, the five-story Andaz Hotel, did a room-to-room search for possible victims, fortunately finding none.

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According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the total cost of damage from the quake could exceed $1 billion.