AFTER A WEEK of steady rain, flood waters soaked California's North Coast winegrowing regions last week in what is getting to be an annual affair. . . .
Flooding in and of itself doesn't do much damage to grape vines, but is usually a bigger headache for soil erosion and wineries that sit on or close to the flood plain, as they are usually awash in muddy brown waters. . . .
Seems the infamous Valentine's Day flood of 1986 is still the worst on record in both Napa and Sonoma counties and it was an incredible weekend for me as I recalled this past week during one of our power outages that left us in the dark for a few hours, with only my portable computer to log a few notes. . . .
On Friday, Feb. 14, 1986, I was scheduled to fly to Los Angeles for an historic tasting of Chateau Lynch-Bages wines dating back as far as the winery and collectors could find them. . . .
My flight out of San Francisco Airport was scheduled for 2 p.m., but after a wet and treacherous ride from Napa that took two hours, an hour longer than normal, I boarded my flight only to have it be delayed another two hours. . . .
We sat on the plane waiting for the rain to let up, as the pilot informed us that he was unable to take off with the four to five inches of rain on the runway. . . .
I'D PLANNED TO have dinner that night with Jean-Michel Cazes, owner of Lynch-Bages, and figured I'd arrive in Los Angeles around 4 p.m., check into my hotel and interview him as background for the next day's vertical tasting. . . .
Cazes in fact had offered to pick me up at the airport in LA since we were both staying at the same hotel and would have more time to visit. . . .
I couldn't call Cazes and tell him about the delay but he found out soon enough reading the arrival boards at LAX. . . .
Once our plane departed, the pilot announced we were being rerouted to Burbank Airport because of rain and flight congestion in LA and I figured there's no way I'd hook up with Cazes that day. . . .
MUCH TO MY surprise, when I stepped off the plane, there was Cazes—having driven to Burbank in a driving rain after learning the plane had been rerouted—with his friend, Sergio Mendez, the great musician. . . .
We spent the night drinking Bordeaux from Mendez's cellar and the tasting the next day was excellent, with many old wines that Cazes himself had never tasted. . . .
On Sunday, Feb. 16, I returned to Napa, barely making it as Highway 29, the southern entrance to the valley, was flooded with many vehicles stalled along the roadways and many more hydroplaning. . . .
By this time the Napa River, just a few blocks from our house, was about to flood and my basement and wine cellar were taking on water faster than my sump pump could clear it out. . . .
ONCE THE RIVER did overflow its banks, I decided to try and wade downtown to the pump store and buy a bigger pump. I lined my legs with plastic trash bags, secured them with rubber bands and waded through three foot deep waters. There I bought a pump with a three inch hose that gushed out water like a fire hose. . . .
On my wade back home, though, a guy driving one of those monster trucks with oversized tires roared through the street and the wave of water he created swept me aside and under the water momentarily. . . .
I got home OK and headed for the cellar where I installed the bigger pump and watched happily as water roared out of the hose. . . .
I had 40 or 50 cardboard boxes full of wine on the cellar floor and moved a few, but thought things would be OK as long as the pump kept pumping. . . .
AN HOUR AFTER I'd bought the pump, we lost power, with a loud explosion coming from the transformer outside our home. . . .
When the cellar lights blacked out, I lost my balance and sat down in the mud. . . .
I spent the next hour or so lifting those 40 or 50 cases of wine to higherground, thinking all the while: "A guy could get a heart attack doing this. . . ."
Without power, I pulled out our camping stove and lantern and we camped out in the living room that night. . . .
My back ached for what seemed like months, but we survived and so did the wine even if my cellar was a muddy mess for weeks to come. . . .
Long after the flood waters receded the memories lingered on. . . .
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