Sandy Delivers Blow to Northeast Wineries

Winery and vineyard owners from New York and New Jersey consider themselves fortunate

by Peter Mitham
hurricane sandy
New Jersey was particularly hard hit by Hurricane Sandy, but Jack Tomasello of Tomasello Winery in Hammondton, N.J., says many of the state's wineries are inland.
Riverhead, N.Y.— Northeast wineries are reporting that Hurricane Sandy delivered more wind than rain. And while it promises to be an inconvenience, the storm caused nothing near the havoc of her predecessor Hurricane Irene in late August 2011.

“That time our warehouse was flooded,” said Miguel Martin, winemaker at Palmer Vineyards in Riverhead, N.Y., on the north side of Long Island. “We were more prepared this time, just in case something happened.”

But despite flooding in New York and power outages to at least 8.1 million people, Palmer Vineyards was relatively unscathed. Stock in the cellar was moved above 2011 flood levels, and outside furniture was moved inside or otherwise secured.

“We never lost our power connection,” Martin told Wines & Vines. “The wind did more damage than the rain, to be honest.”

Storm after harvest
Touring his vineyards Tuesday morning, after the storm had swept past, Martin said there were downed trees on roads, but the 60-acre vineyard was in relatively good shape. The fruit was harvested and vines didn’t appear to be too much worse for wear.

“Thank heavens it happened when everything got picked. If this happened in September…” Martin said, his voice trailing off.

While the vineyards are located on the North Fork facing Long Island Sound rather than the Atlantic, Martin isn’t aware of significant damage at other wineries. Calls by Wines & Vines to other wineries further east on Long Island were met with busy signals, suggesting some service disruptions. Martin’s own calls to glass companies in Upstate New York were greeted by busy signals.

“I’m assuming they lost power or something like that,” he said.

Sandy remains a formidable storm system, however. While the damage from Irene is estimated at $15.8 billion, the impact of Sandy—which trashed Manhattan, put at least one nuclear plant on alert and is estimated to have killed at least 38 people in the U.S.—is being estimated at between $10 billion and $20 billion, with some reports throwing out a $50 billion figure by the time it gets through with Canada.

But for wineries, the impact seems to have been mitigated by a combination of the weather it delivered, their location, and no doubt wisdom gleaned from past experience.

Evaluating New Jersey
“This storm did a lot of damage to the outer bank, a lot of coastal flooding,” said Jack Tomasello of Tomasello Winery in Hammonton, N.J., in the Outer Coastal Plain AVA, 35 miles inland from Atlantic City, where Sandy demolished the iconic boardwalk.

“Most of the wineries are inland in New Jersey, and there was very little damage to them.”

Being inland meant no surge from the wind-whipped Atlantic tides, and since Sandy delivered more wind than rain, there was less run-off. Tomasello noted that the ground was dry, ensuring some precipitation was sucked up by the earth.

“This storm brought a little less rain than Irene, a little heavier wind. We only had about 5 inches of rain. Irene was more like 8 (inches),” he said. “We do have some flooding in places, but it’s nowhere near what they thought they were going to get.”

Barring any extensive property damage, Tomasello said the main hit that wineries will face is from lower productivity and lost sales. People can’t make it into work, distribution is hampered and visitors stay away.

“It’s a nuisance to deal with,” Tomasello said. “The world stops. It’s no different than a serious snow storm. We get hit with snow like that, it’s a three- or four-day, five-day thing.”

Todd Wuerker, co-owner of Hawk Haven Vineyard in Rio Grande, N.J., just south of Sea Isle City, where Sandy made landfall, echoed Tomasello’s comments.

“We fared OK,” he said via email. “Minor flooding in the vineyard from the 10- to 11 inches of rain, but that was gone this morning.”

Lingering effects
Hawk Haven lost power for a bit, but Wuerker is more concerned about the loss of business. Business was slow in the run-up to the storm, and Wueker expects people to be distracted until their own lives get back in order after the storm.

“We have learned from Irene that we will also have lasting effects for weeks as people/customers will be cleaning up afterwards,” he said. “All in all, things are good considering the possibilities.”

Tomasello takes the weather in stride.

While the “perfect storm” of 1991 and the “storm of the century” in 1993 have largely faded into memory, more recent storms such as hurricanes Floyd, Irene and now Sandy have captured public attention thanks to greater awareness of climate change and blockbuster disaster films such as “The Perfect Storm” (2000) and “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004).

“We’re getting used to this,” Tomasello said. “We’ve been through this a couple of times already, so it’s becoming old hat.”

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