Earthquake Tears Up Napa Just Before Harvest

photo courtesy Cole Drake Events
photo courtesy Cole Drake Events

Being jolted awake in the wee hours of the morning rarely brings tidings of joy. When it happens in the Bay Area, it’s particularly unnerving, signaling an anxious rush for safety and a harrowing ride that can seem much longer than the few seconds it tends to last. Then the panic -  when the tremors subside, will everything be OK? In recent years, areas residents have been relatively lucky. Small earthquakes rarely did more than cause a jiggle, sending unsecured objects from shelving.

Last Sunday morning, it was different. A 6.0 magnitude earthquake, the strongest in 25 years, hit the center of Napa Valley, causing severe damage to homes and local businesses. Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency. More than 100 residents are now deemed uninhabitable, and there were dozens of injuries, 3 reported as quite serious. Fortunately, most of the damage was structural. However, for an area centered on one major industry, the material destruction is devastating, costing over an estimated $1 billion to local vineyards and wineries, which make up the majority of the local economy, estimated at about $13 billion per year.

According to the Washington Post, Napa was already bracing itself for a premature harvest after one of the worst droughts in the area’s post Prohibition history. Earthquakes, like tornados, cause widespread, random and varying degrees of casualties. In some instances, there were only a few bottles, some glassware and possibly a barrel or two that broke and leaked. In others, the quake was a massive catastrophe. Barrels of aging wine are now veritable bleeding matchsticks, as is the case for some wineries such as B.R. Cohn, which estimates a 50% loss in product.

Aside from revenue, the other damage to consider is that of history and nostalgia. Many wineries keep a cellared library of vintage bottles, sometimes dating back several decades, either for collectors or private use. At some locations, these are also gone forever. Keep in mind that it’s not merely big name wineries such as Silver Oak who have sustained this kind of damage. Napa is home to a lot of small, humble family boutique businesses, such as Ca’Momi, Sbragia and Rocca who don’t have a huge cult following, and most often operate on a real labor of love. Losing even a few cases for wineries like these is a big deal, and they depend on word of mouth and keeping their tasting rooms open to visitors.

napa barrels
napa barrels

So how can you help? In addition to donations to relief organizations such as the Red Cross, you can simply do your part by purchasing Napa wines. If you planned a trip to the region, don’t cancel it. Tasting rooms and restaurants will open again in a couple of days and need the support. Sure. In the grand scheme of things, the quake that hit Napa isn’t on the same tragic level of human loss as with other world natural disasters in recent years. But it’s bad enough, and we care about these guys who built a thriving economy out of what was essentially a waste land by the mid 20th century. Hopefully, the bacchanal that has been the Napa valley rises from the grape stained rubble.

If anyone has any information on relief organizations in the area or events benefitting damaged businesses, please post in the comments!