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6.0 Quake Rattles Napa

Wineries report damage, while mild temperatures may ease effect on harvest

by Wines & Vines staff
vintner collective earthquake
An earthquake located just south of Napa sent the sandstone exterior of Vintner's Collective toppling to the street.
Napa, Calif.—A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked the Napa Valley early Sunday, toppling barrels, breaking bottles and spilling wine and must in the United States’ best-known wine region. Power and phone lines were knocked out for several hours in much of the area.

The quake caused serious damage at the Vinter’s Collective, which serves as a tasting room for 18 wineries in downtown Napa. The sandstone exterior peeled off the front of the historic building, which was built in 1875 and has been red-tagged until officials determine whether it is safe to enter.

Winemaker Alison Crowe spoke to Wines & Vines while surveying buildings occupied by Plata Wine Partners. “I just did a walk-through at one of my storage facilities in South Napa. There was a little bit of wine spilled and some barrels toppled over,” she said.

At another South Napa office building located near the Meritage, Crowe reported about 12 cases’ worth of wine had crashed to the floor and stained the carpet.

While the epicenter of the quake was widely reported as being in the small city of American Canyon, Calif., it was actually in the marshlands of the Carneros AVA. At Bouchaine Vineyards, located in the Carneros AVA and about 1.5 miles from the epicenter, a small A-frame sign had been covered with a hand-written note informing visitors that the winery was closed for cleanup Sunday after the earthquake. Inside, staff was busy dealing with barrels that had tipped over—some empty and others filled with Cabernet. Neighboring wineries Acacia Vineyard and Cuvaison Estate Wines also were closed.

Sparkling wine producer Domaine Carneros Winery was a hive of activity, but of the sort expected on a sunny day in late August. Assistant manager Jake Shebitz said the winery suffered no serious structural damage, and that the tasting room was “packed.”

Shebitz added that winery staff had considered closing for the day, but when it was clear that the facility had made it through the earthquake relatively unscathed, the crew made the decision to open for business. “It was made easier by the fact people were lining up at the front door.”

Transportation and timing
Several of the roads in Carneros exhibited cracks and buckled pavement, and crews were quickly filling and patching the damage Sunday. A group of tourists gathered to take pictures of a crack stretching across a road and ending in a vineyard. Much more serious was a large crack across Highway 121, which connects Napa and Sonoma counties. Closing this highway during harvest could have triggered a logistical nightmare for grape deliveries, however traffic barely slowed for the crack in spite of caution signs alerting drivers to its presence.

Winemaker Crowe said that unseasonably low temperatures in the North Bay could work in favor of wineries cleaning up from the earthquake. Usually by this time Napa is experiencing average high temperatures in the mid-80ºs; last week, however, the thermostat did not crack the 80ºF mark.

“From what I’ve heard anecdotally, this week of cool weather that we’ve just had has been kind of a blessing in disguise. For example, I picked my first Pinot on Friday and crushed in Sonoma, and now and I don’t have anything scheduled to pick until the end of this week,” Crowe said. “It’s like mother nature gave us a bit of a break.”

Wine industry service providers
Pacific Gas & Electric was running a command post out of the Napa County Airport on Sunday. The area is home to several large barrel warehouses, bottling operations and bulk-wine storage sites.

Wine-storage facility Safe Harbor reported negligible damage. The company’s founding partner Scott McLeod told Wines & Vines that earthquake damage was “very minor, no losses.” The facility was “built like a battleship,” he said.

And custom-crush operation Bin to Bottle emerged from the earthquake unscathed. “Not a single barrel out of place. Not a glass broken. Not a piece of equipment damaged. Miraculous,” reported owner John Wilkinson.

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