Napa growers, wineries recover after big quake


Issue Date: August 27, 2014
By Steve Adler

The magnitude-6 earthquake that struck the Napa Valley Sunday came just as winegrape growers began to harvest the 2014 crop. In the days following the quake, farmers and wineries will learn more about how much the damage caused by the quake could disrupt harvest operations.

Reports indicated that the heaviest impact of the earthquake was in southern Napa County's Carneros region, where some of California's finest wines are produced. It was not immediately known how much effect the earthquake may have on the harvest, but growers reported that cooler temperatures in recent days provided them some flexibility in the timing of their harvests.

"Harvest is underway in the Napa Valley and everyone is working hard to get business 'back to normal' as quickly as possible," said Cate Conniff of Napa Valley Vintners. "The earthquake did not impact vineyards or the grapes on the vine, and the majority of Napa Valley's wineries are open for business."

Conniff pointed out that most wine that is at the wineries right now is from the 2012 and 2013 vintages—the two most abundant vintages ever.

"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," she said.

Vineyard manager Peter Nissen, who oversees several hundred acres of winegrapes from Carneros to Calistoga, said that although the earthquake was very dramatic, it appeared to have done little to disrupt the grape harvest, and he said wineries for the most part have been able to receive deliveries on winegrapes without extensive delays.

Nissen said growers will be assessing the infrastructure of their vineyards during the next several days, checking things such as their drip systems and wells.

He added that the Napa County agricultural commissioner, as well as representatives from the federal Farm Services Agency, had responded quickly and were in the process of analyzing whether to seek a federal agricultural disaster designation.

Winegrape grower Lee Hudson of Carneros said he was shaken out of bed at 3:20 a.m. Sunday and that the earthquake was the strongest one he had ever felt.

"Living in California, I have felt plenty of earthquakes, but they were always in the 3.5 to 4 range. Now having experienced a 6.0 quake, I would hate to be around for a 7.0 quake," he said.

Hudson said that in an inspection walk through his vineyards, he didn't see any damage to the vines. In fact, Hudson's grape-picking crews harvested Sunday night, less than 24 hours after the earthquake. He said he delivered grapes to three wineries and reported no delays at any of the facilities.

That may not be the case with all wineries in Napa County, where damage has been reported at several. Trefethen Family Winery in southern Napa County showed signs of major structural damage to its historic winery. The structure, which was built in 1886, was leaning precariously. Several other wineries had barrels—wood and stainless steel—down, as well as wine tanks and case stock.

The earthquake was the largest to hit the Napa Valley region since the Loma Prieta temblor in 1989. Most of the damage from Sunday's quake occurred in the city of Napa and throughout southern Napa County, where wine barrels, bottles and tanks were toppled. Wineries north of the city reported little damage.

Conniff said that for wineries that did suffer equipment or facility damage, there are resources available to secure temporary tanks and other production equipment to help them get through the next few weeks. In the immediate aftermath of the quake, it was too early to provide damage or loss estimates for wine, equipment and facilities, she said.

Napa Valley Vintners was also planning a workshop this week to help those affected by the earthquake with their immediate questions, Conniff said.

One of the hardest-hit areas was historic downtown Napa, where most buildings date back more than a century. Among those receiving extensive damage was the 1908 structure that houses the Napa County Farm Bureau.

The county Farm Bureau executive director, Sandy Elles, said the building suffered major damage when a water heater in the third-floor attic toppled over, causing pipes to burst and spew out water for two hours before the valves could be shut off.

(Steve Adler is associate editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at sadler@cfbf.com.)

(This story was updated to correct the age of the Trefethen winery building.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.