A big loser in West Coast quake: Napa Valley wineries

Dozens of homes and historic buildings are now considered unsafe and Napa Valley wineries are reporting a financial hit in the wake of Sunday's 6.0 magnitude earthquake. (Reuters)

The 6.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Northern California on Sunday morning, bringing down thousands of barrels and bottles of high-priced wine, couldn’t have come at a worse time in wine country. The region, which has been battling one of its worst droughts in decades, was preparing for a premature harvest.

The country’s well-known wine-making region, Napa Valley, was at the epicenter of the earthquake responsible for dozens of injuries and damages estimated to surpass $1 billion. And wine that bled out on cellar floors will make up a hefty chunk of the lost revenue. The valley’s more than 500 wineries generate some $13 billion a year for the regional economy, according to Napa Valley Vintners, a trade organization.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) declared a state of emergency Sunday after the earthquake — the worst to rattle the Bay Area in 25 years — took out power lines, ignited fires, broke water mains, damaged numerous homes and businesses, and sent more than 120 people to the hospital, according to the Los Angeles Times. Nearly 100 houses and more than 30 buildings have been deemed too dangerous to enter.

“It’s devastating. I’ve never seen anything like this,” Tom Montgomery, a winemaker for B.R. Cohn Winery in Glen Ellen, Calif., told the Associated Press. He said the winery lost “as much as 50 percent” of its wine.


Andrew Brooks (C), associate winemaker of Bouchaine Vineyards, surveys fallen wine barrels after a 6.0 earthquake in Napa, California August 24, 2014. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

In the wake of the quake, David Oppenheimer, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., told the Wall Street Journal the economic losses facing the valley could exceed $100 million.

Winemakers were still calculating the damage on Sunday.

Tyler Paradise, general manager of Cult 24 wine bar in Napa, told Reuters he estimates his business lost about $50,000 worth of wine.

At Dahl Vineyards in Yountville, Calif., a barrel containing $16,000 worth of pinot noir smashed to the ground, according to the AP.

Aubrey Bailey, co-owner of Cadet Wine Bar, told the San Francisco Chronicle she estimates the restaurant lost “at least” $15,000 in wine.

The 2014 vino will survive since the harvest season just started.

“All of us are just waiting now to see how bad the damage is in all the warehouses, how much we lost from other years,” said Ariel Ceja of Ceja Vineyards.

Although most reported only mild damage to facilities and equipment, Adam Fox, managing director of Canard Vineyard in Calistoga, told the L. A. Times such damage could be catastrophic.

“It’s particularly disconcerting this time of year because we’re getting close to harvest and crush,” he said. “You can’t afford damage to your fermentation tank or water lines. If all your barrels came crashing, where are you going to get new ones in time?”

On Sunday, people took to social media to show the damages.

— “Who cares about #wine at a time like this. #earthquake #Napa #thankgod we are safe”

— “This isn’t water running down the street, it’s Cabernet. #napaquake clean-up underway #wine #Napa #earthquake”

“The weather is fantastic so far. The quality is fantastic so far. It’s almost as if this year was too good to be true,” viticulturist Steve Matthiasson told the L.A. Times. “Instead of rain or hail, we had an earthquake to screw it up.”

Related:

The seismic strength of every earthquake gets calculated based on a now universal magnitude scale. Here's where that scale came from and how it works. (Gillian Brockell and Kate M. Tobey/The Washington Post)
Lindsey Bever is a national news reporter for The Washington Post. She writes for the Morning Mix news blog. Tweet her: @lindseybever
Nick Kirkpatrick is a digital photo editor at The Washington Post. Follow him on Instagram or on Twitter.
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