Bottle shock. Crushed. Shaken, not stirred. Whatever word you choose to describe it, the 6.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked Napa Valley early Sunday morning has left behind more than spilled wine. More than 100 homes and buildings red-tagged. The facade of the beautiful Vintner’s Collective building gone. Homes shaken off foundations, cracks in walls, chimneys toppled. Countless glasses, plates and other personal possessions shattered. Gallons and gallons of wine lost.
All this happening as harvest is underway. Winemakers who lost tanks and barrels are scrambling to find ones they can borrow or rent so they can press, ferment and store the new wines coming in as we speak.
Some producers lost freshly made wines from the current vintage, but they also lost library wines — collections of wine going back years, if not decades. Wineries also lost wine in barrel that hadn’t made it to bottle yet, as barrels toppled from stacks five and six high. As if we need to be reminded, these wines can never be replaced.
Winery Shake Up
Monique Soltani of Wine Oh TV headed up to Napa with her camera as soon as she could to document the aftermath and check in with vintners most impacted by the quake. At Bouchaine Vineyards, they lost at least 8 barrels of wine. A barrel holds 25 cases worth of wine, or 300 bottles. That’s roughly 2,400 bottles. Keep in mind full wine barrels weigh about 600 pounds. How lucky that the earthquake struck in the middle of the night when no one was in the winery.
The situation is all to familiar for winemakers at Matthiasson, Cornerstone Cellars, The Hess Collection, Sebastiani, Lagier-Meredith, who found toppled jumbled wine barrels, damaged tanks and wineries flooded with wine.
Of those affected, many are small operations, mom and pop, family owned wineries, eateries and boutiques.
Ceja Vineyards is one of those. Their tasting room is on First Street in downtown Napa. They lost 12 cases of wine and every Riedel wine glass. The very heavy statue of Bacchus toppled over and broke its head and neck (it weighs about a ton). At their property in Carneros, a big Buddha statue was knocked over. Amelia Ceja and her family are not deterred. They’ve been harvesting all week as they deal with the clean up. Amelia says, “We are ready to receive visitors and locals alike with open arms and our legendary Ceja hospitality!”
Hailey Trefethen and her mother arrived at their family winery shortly after the earthquake occured. “We noticed right away that something was not right,” she says. They found the base of the 1886 historic landmark winery building which houses the Trefethen Famiy Vineyards tasting room in tact, but “as you go up from the base to the second floor the building shifted four inches,” Hailey says. “The top two floors are still in line.”
The Trefethen building is one of four wineries designed by Hamden McIntyre, who also created the distinctive stone winery buildings at Far Niente Winery, Inglenook and the Culinary Institute of America (formerly Christian Brothers winery). It survived both the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes, and hopefully this one.
The historic building is red-tagged and no one hss been able to enter it to survey the damage.
“It’s safety first,” Hailey says. “We have a construction crew and structural engineers shoring up the building to make it stable so the engineers can go in and assess damage.” Right now they are setting iron into 12 feet deep concrete footings. “They are optimistic which makes us optimistic the building can be restored.”
The other winery buildings are fine and while some tanks pulled away from walls and were dented, no wine was lost. Trefethen started harvest on Friday. “Things are getting back to normal,” says Hailey. “Through all of this our team has been incredible and I am forever grateful.”
Folks in Napa and wine country are a resilient bunch, ready to lend a hand even when their homes or businesses have been hit hard. And, they’re not about to let an earthquake get in the way of what’s shaping up to be another spectacular vintage. They’ve cleaned up, and opened doors to their wineries, restaurants, hotels and shops as quickly as they can.
How You Can Help
What they need is our help, because Napa is open for business. Now more than ever is the time to drink Napa wine, buy Napa products, dine in Napa restaurants, visit the wine country. Most of these wineries don’t have earthquake insurance. It’s just so expensive, and really, who thought Napa was on a major fault?
In addition to all that, Elaine stopped by Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant, a shop at the Oxbow Market that carries small production Napa wines. They’re having an earthquake sale, for wines “kissed by” the quake with damaged labels but not broken. Like Elaine, I encourage you to go buy wine, especially from wineries who were impacted the most.
“No one has earthquake insurance because it doesn’t make economic sense,” Elaine says. “So small businesses are having to just swallow the losses. Buying from Napa small business online, or any Napa label is helpful.”
She also stopped by The Vintner’s Collective, where the facade of this beautiful old building came completely off in the shaking. This collective tasting room is home to very small production wineries who don’t have tasting rooms of their own. So check out their website and find those producers to buy wine from and help them all get through this.
Other small wineries that you may not have heard about have also been affected, including Lightening Wines, who had equipment damaged and lost part of their 2013 vintage.
Winemaker Joe Wagner of Meiomi rushed to his St. Helena winemaking facility Sunday morning to find the power out and two severely damaged tanks leaking wine that was ready to be bottled. Each tank holds 25,000 gallons. “The weld seam at the ankle at base had split open, up to a one by three inch hole,” he says. “Wine was spewing out of those.” Four other tanks were also leaking.
Thinking quickly Joe found hoses to transfer the remaining wine in tanks to empty tanks. He called in his crew, got extra tanker trucks to the wine. He used gas-powered ag pumps to move the wine and save “somewhere around 20 to 30,000 gallons of wine that would otherwise have gone down the drain.” He credits quick response from his crew, the arrival of a generator and welder to repair the tanks. “At the end of the day we lost about 28,000 gallons of Meiomi 2013 Chardonnay.” That’s about 15-20% of his production. He also lost about 1,000 gallons of Napa Valley 2012 red and Oregon 2013 Pinot Noir.
Joe says the best way to support the community is to visit Napa and enjoy the wine, food and all the other things Napa has to offer. “This is a small setback,” he says.
“The really big thing to drive home is that Napa is open and ready for business,” Elaine says. “We do need help but for those that can visit, we need that most of all.”
Winemaker Bridget Raymond reports minimal damage to her wine label Courtesan Wines. But she has friends and a client who weren’t as fortunate. So she’s created a fund to help raise money for the community.
Most importantly, says Bridget, “Napa is open for business.” When you donate to the Napa Earthquake Community Fund, you can choose from various “rewards” for wine tasting experiences throughout the valley. 100% of the money raised goes directly to affected by the earthquake. “I set up this page,” Bridget says, “so I know that 100% of the funds will go to those who need it and might otherwise be overlooked.”
The first $1,000 raised will go to the family of Nicholas Dillion, the 13 year old boy injured by bricks falling from the fireplace during the quake, to help with medical costs. The rest of the money raised will go to local charities that help with food and childcare of volunteers,” Bridget says. “People such as Nola Rawlins who lost her home in a fire, and local businesses or small winemakers hit the hardest who have no insurance..”
You can help out by donating to the Napa Earthquake Community Fund.
The Napa Valley Vintners has created a community disaster fund, donating $10 million to the Napa Valley Community Foundation, and they encourage those who want to help to contribute. You can donate to Neighbors Helping Neighbors. Clinic Ole is offering help to low income and vineyard workers. Shelter for people who lost or are being temporarily displaced from their homes is being provided by the Red Cross’s Napa County chapter.
Buy and Open a Bottle (or Two) of Napa Valley Wine
At Back Room Wines in downtown Napa owner Daniel Dawson specializes in small production, unique wines. He lost some bottles — about 50 according to the shop’s Facebook page – but nothing major in the scheme of things. Now is the time to stop by, browse his well-edited selections (also available online), taste a few wines you may not have heard of, and support this local business and wineries.
The one thing I hear over and over from vintners is that one good (and fun and easy) way to help out is to buy and open a bottle or two of Napa Valley wine this weekend. My friend and publicist Monty Sander reminds us on his Facebook of the “open that bottle night” that the wine writers John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter promoted every year in their Wall Street Journal column. Well make this Labor Day holiday weekend “open that bottle of Napa wine night” — especially a bottle from one of the wineries hardest hit by the earthquake.