At 3:20 a.m. on Sunday, August 24, a strong 6.0 earthquake hit the little-known West Napa Fault. What felt like a loud, rumbling, roaring freight train hit the towns of American Canyon and Napa, the county seat, particularly hard. The “Up Valley” towns of Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga were shaken but spared. The middle-of-the-night timing of the earthquake was actually fortuitous since people weren't working in wineries or dining out in Napa Valley’s numerous restaurants. Most of the damage was due to falling brick, cosmetic damage to building exteriors, or to breakables when bottles and glasses tumbled off of shelves, tables, and counters. Barrels, both full and empty, fell over in wineries and wine storage facilities.
Yet despite the extensive shaking, relatively little was actually damaged in the area, and Napa Valley has resumed business as usual. Visitors may not see any evidence at all from the earthquake, except in downtown Napa. Though some buildings and homes in the city of Napa were extensively and dramatically damaged, fortunately they were the exception. The few severely damaged buildings, like the historic Napa Courthouse and Napa Post Office, were mostly constructed of brick, stone, or unreinforced masonry.
Most businesses and homeowners have cleaned up and many of the initially closed businesses have reopened. Importantly, for visitors, Napa Valley’s prime lodging facilities such as the Villagio, Meadowood, Silverado Resort, the Napa River Inn, and The Meritage Resort among others are open and doing fine. The Andaz Hotel in downtown Napa remains closed for the time being.
Napa Valley’s hot dining scene fared pretty well after employers and staff rushed to clean up broken glassware. After an initial mess, Napa’s Oxbow Public Market — a fantastic collection of high-end food purveyors and restaurants — opened right up. "We've got an amazing group of tenants and a supportive community," said Oxbow founder Steve Carlin. All Up Valley restaurants are open for business and most in the city of Napa have reopened. Napa’s remaining closed restaurants include: Carpe Diem, Don Perico, and Sushi Mambo.
City Winery, a major live performance venue in Napa, reopened quickly; but the beautiful Uptown Theater, though structurally sound, sustained damage to its interior ceiling. It is expected to be fixed and open by early November.
Napa Valley’s wineries as a whole suffered little damage but a few did take some lumps, like The Hess Collection located on Napa’s Mt. Veeder. “It remains a great time of year to visit, and now we’ll have a bit more to talk about as we swirl, sip and spit.” said Jim Caudill, The Hess Collection’s Director of Public Relations & Hospitality. Two wineries also affected were Laird and Bouchaine Winery. Despite some damage, all Napa Valley Wineries are open for business.
“For almost all in the wine business the earthquake came as a big surprise,” said Grant Long Jr., winemaker at Blue Oak Estate Wines located in Coombsville. “But the way the valley has banded together to help those that were affected is no surprise.” Blue Oak produces one of the best Merlots in California. “Whether it be a recession, drought or earthquake, the valley will always stand by each other through tough times.” Tor Kenward, the proprietor of the prestigious Kenward Family Wines, located in St. Helena said, “Wine barrels are made of oak because it is the one of the world’s hardest woods, and that only with fire can be bent. Most of all our barrels survived because of this.” Kenward went on to say, “Natural disasters test us like the staves of the barrels we use, they put us to the fire, bend us, and make us better neighbors, better people, collectively magnificent.” Tor Kenward produces four fantastic, opulent chardonnays.
Napa Valley is going full steam ahead, quake or no quake. Guests will still discover great wineries, sumptuous lodging, amazing weather, fine dining, luxurious spas, balloon rides, and more. In fact, Napa Valley Rocks!, is a brand new, rapidly organized event coming to Napa, September 25 through September 28. It will feature four days of music, wine and culinary events, community gatherings, and more. And 100 percent of the proceeds will go to the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund to help the people and businesses most affected by the earthquake. Visit the event website for details.
Sunday’s concert at the Napa Valley Fairgrounds in particular should be a blast. The very cool band, “Grass Child” (from Napa), and other musical acts will be performing. The cost is $20 per person and various food trucks and vendors will be selling food/drinks onsite (cash only). Visitors from the Bay Area and beyond are invited to the fun and to see how Napa is still rocking.
Michael Dellar, CEO of the Lark Creek Restaurant Group and owner of Fish Story restaurant in the heart of downtown Napa, said that “Downtown will survive with flying colors. It has so much momentum that a set back like this is only a pause.” Fish Story only had a few broken bottles. “I am as bullish as ever.”
Bob Ecker is a travel writer based in Napa Valley.