Earthquake Strikes Napa Valley

Dozens injured, buildings damaged and wineries trying to assess impact, check on staff and clean up
Aug 24, 2014

Updated Aug. 25, 12:00 p.m.

A 6.1-magnitude earthquake shook Napa Valley and Sonoma County awake early on Sunday morning, Aug. 24, injuring at least 200 people and inflicting considerable damage on downtown Napa and nearby wineries.

The quake struck at 3:20 a.m. Pacific time about six miles southwest of the city of Napa, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). It was the strongest earthquake to hit the San Francisco Bay Area since the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, which registered 6.9.

Assessing damage Sunday morning was difficult because parts of Napa and Sonoma counties were without power. Potential gas leaks and water main breaks amplified the problem. Sections of downtown Napa were roped off and closed to traffic. Six mobile homes in Napa were destroyed by fire following a gas leak. With no water in hydrants, firefighters improvised to contain and put out the blaze.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for California and said state resources would be dispatched to those areas hardest hit by the disaster, including Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties. At a news conference, Congressman Mike Thompson, who represents the area, said, " The reports are still coming in, and it's bad any way you calculate it, but it could have been a heck of a lot worse."

Several historic buildings in downtown Napa were severely damaged, including the post office and county courthouse, plus the Alexandria Building, built in 1910 and home to many businesses like the Carpe Diem Wine Bar. The stone facade of the Pfeiffer Building, built in 1875 and home to the Vintner’s Collective tasting room, was badly damaged.

Photos of broken wine bottles and wine barrels heaved from their racks quickly spread through social media. “I’ve been at the winery since 4:30 a.m.,” said David Duncan, president of Silver Oak Cellars in Oakville. "I cleaned up my house first."

Silver Oak lost hundreds of bottles from a rare collection of single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, and three oak barrels of wine were damaged. “Luckily the barrels didn’t burst, so we were able to salvage most of the wine,” said Duncan. “The collection of bottles is literally priceless. I cleaned that up myself with a shovel.”

At Sonoma's Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery, the quake damaged 14 tanks of red and white wines. Each tank at the winery holds 30,000 to 70,000 gallons. Some wine sprayed out through the leaks. Winemaker Mark Lyons told Wine Spectator these were older tanks used for clients who store wine there. "We are actively pumping the wines out of those tanks," he said. "Our newer tanks did not leak. No Sebastiani wine was lost."

At Robert Biale Vineyards, south of Yountville, ten barrels of Zinfandel and Sangiovese were lost when a row of racks collapsed. “Thank God there were no cellar guys working—3:20 a.m. is a good time for a wine country earthquake,” said winery partner Dave Pramuk.

Two 10,000 gallon tanks at the Hess Collection were damaged, according to James Caudill, director of publicity and hospitality. One leaked wine while the other crumpled and ruptured. Almost 15,000 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 spilled onto the floor and flooded a garden courtyard. Tom Montgomery, a winemaker at B.R. Cohn in Glen Ellen, told the Associated Press that his winery lost “as much as 50 percent” of its wine.

With harvest having only recently started, aging wines from past vintages seemed to be most at risk. Carole Meredith of Lagier Meredith snapped and posted a photo of dozens of damaged barrels littering the floor at a local barrel storage facility, Napa Barrel Care. Most of the hundreds of fallen barrels appeared intact. The historic Trefethen Family Vineyards building was also damaged, according to local reports.

Napa restaurants suffered mostly broken windows and glassware, with some wine inventory damaged as well. Staff were spending much of Sunday and Monday cleaning up. Wine Spectator will continue to provide reports as the damage is assessed.

With reporting by MaryAnn Worobiec and Augustus Weed.

Photo by Dave Pramuk

Barrels tumbled from their racks at Robert Biale Vineyards.

Photo by Dave Pramuk

A few barrels shattered, spilling some of their precious contents.

Disasters Earthquake United States California Napa Sonoma News

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