The Napa Earthquake: It Was Bad… But It Could Have Been Worse

We native Californians know that when an earthquake hits, it can take days and sometimes even weeks to fully grasp the extent of the damage.

Today, social media can further muddy the waters as thousands of people post and tweet their initial impressions — impressions that may or may not prove to be accurate.

But long-time wine industry colleague and friend Jim Caudill of The Hess Collection winery in Napa Valley nailed it just minutes after a magnitude 6.0 or 6.1 quake (seismologists probably won’t have a definite “number” for a few more days), centered in American Canyon, shook up the valley early Sunday morning.

The adjective he used to describe the quake in his first Facebook post was “gnarly.”

Because of the timing of the earthquake — the largest to hit the San Francisco Bay Area since the Loma Prieta quake of 1989 — it was impossible to assess the damage quickly. It wasn’t until the sun came up that blocks of downtown Napa were revealed to look more like pockets of modern day Iraq.

Buildings damaged… streets littered with debris… water mains broken… streets buckled.

And inside the valley’s wineries, bottles were shattered, stacked barrels were thrown to cellar floors and historic buildings were badly damaged.

TrefethenThey say a picture is worth a thousand words, so take a look at this picture posted on Facebook by Trefethen Family Vineyards. It was accompanied by this notice:

“She may be broken but we will re-build! Our treasured historical building sustained a significant blow during Sunday’s earthquake but the Trefethen family is committed to bringing this grand Napa Valley landmark back to her glory. Your messages of love and support mean the world to our team and the family.”

Dozens of homes and other buildings in the valley have been “red-tagged,” meaning they are not allowed to be inhabited until adequate repairs are made — if repairs can be made. The estimated damage valley-wide has been pegged at more than $1 billion.

More than 200 people were treated for injuries at Queen of the Valley Medical Center, but the Napa Valley Vintners trade organization reports that nobody was injured at any of the valley’s wineries — again, thanks to the timing of the quake. Had someone been in a cellar when barrels started flying, it could have been tragic.

As so many winery owners have noted, although they may have sustained building damage and some loss of inventory, they’re grateful that there was no loss of human life. Wine and barrels can be replaced; people can’t.

In yesterday’s blog, I noted how disgusted I became when the first Facebook posting I read about the earthquake, from a “friend of a friend,” mused, “The price of good wine is going up!”

It ticked me off for two reasons:

1. It was making light of a situation that could have been truly tragic.

2. It was uninformed at best, and totally wrong at worst.

Many wineries in the valley were lucky; they lost no wine at all. There have been only a few reports of big losses resulting from broken or shattered barrels. In a lot of cases, barrels were thrown to the ground, but not damaged — a minor miracle.

Furthermore, most of the wine currently aging in barrels and tanks is from the 2012 and 2013 vintages, which the Napa Valley Vintners described as “the two most abundant vintages ever.”

Looking ahead, the association added, “While some individual wineries may experience inventory shortages as a result of the earthquake, it is not expected to have a significant impact on Napa Valley wine inventory in general.” And if the inventory is not impacted, prices will not be impacted.

Wineries work hard to protect their brands and their images, and pricing is part of that endeavor. It would be foolish for a winery to raise the price on a specific bottling to make up for a lack of inventory — and as the vintners’ group noted, even with some losses due to the quake, shortages figure to be isolated and rare.

So, that Facebook poster who was concerned about the price of wine going up can rest easily. It’s not likely to happen — not because of the earthquake, anyway.

As for the rest of us, we can breathe a sigh of relief. While buildings and barrels and bottles and other “things” may have been damaged, for the most part, people escaped with only minor injuries or no injuries at all.

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Tomorrow: How you can protect the wine bottles in your home.

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One comment on “The Napa Earthquake: It Was Bad… But It Could Have Been Worse
  1. […] The next day, we included a picture of a badly damaged historical building at Trefethen Family Vineyards. Its damage looked a lot like that sustained by so many buildings in downtown Napa. […]

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