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Napa Fire Destroys $36 Million in Rare Wine


James Laube
Posted: June 16, 2000

Fire swept through a two-story wine warehouse at Frank-Rombauer Cellars in Napa Valley early Thursday, destroying an estimated $36 million worth of rare and expensive wine.

About 90,000 cases of high-priced, high-profile wines perished in the fire, including 70,000 cases of Frank-Rombauer wines and nearly all of the Robert Foley Napa Valley Claret 1998, its first year of production. Brown Estate Vineyards lost all of its 1998 Zinfandel, plus its library of wines. Other wineries believed to have suffered serious losses include Bacio Divino, Ehlers Grove, Elyse, D-Cubed and Gregory Graham. About 20 wineries stored wine in the warehouse.

"I'm kind of emotionally shattered -- we're all kind of shattered," said Bob Foley, who along with his wife, Diane, and others watched the smoky blaze race through the warehouse at Frank-Rombauer, near Calistoga. "All the Foley went up in smoke."

The early-morning blaze is believed to have been caused by a faulty water heater. As of late last night, it was unclear exactly whose wines had perished. Koerner Rombauer, one of the owners of the facility, said that he could not obtain official records because a loss of power at the winery had shut down the computers. "It looks like all the case goods are toasted," said Rombauer.

Most of the wines stored at the warehouse sell for $65 to $100 per bottle. All of the wines are covered by insurance, said Rombauer. Foley said that virtually all of the case goods on the second floor were destroyed, including all 308 cases and 50 cases of magnums of his wine, though he managed to save 12 3-liter bottles.

Foley, the winemaker for Pride Mountain Vineyards and Paloma, had planned to sell his first Foley Claret this fall. He said that his 1999 vintage was unharmed.

He and Rombauer also said that it appeared that the bulk wine belonging to Pride Mountain, Paloma, Duckhorn and others, which was stored on the floor below the fire, survived. "We think those wines are OK," said Rombauer. "There may be some water damage, but we won't know until tomorrow."

Among the other wines stored at Frank-Rombauer are Blair Vineyards, Craig Bissonette, Bravante, Cataculet Ranch, Dusinberre, Eklund, Kathryn Hall, Inniskillin, Kuleto Ranch, Mura Wines, Napa Cellars, Parador Cellars, Parry, Point Reyes, Queenfield Wine Co., Salvestrin, Shypoke Vineyards, Soda Canyon, Sparrow Lane, Spellitch Cellars and Winston Hill Wines.

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