New Zealand was rocked by a major 7.5-magnitude earthquake just after midnight on Nov. 14 near Kaikoura, a coastal community 50 miles northeast of the city of Christchurch on the South Island. Two deaths have been confirmed. Vintners are just starting to assess damage, but early reports are that the wine industry suffered only minimal damage.
"Fortunately, due to the time of day and year there weren't people working in the wineries at the time," said Matt Thomson of Marlborough's Saint Clair winery.
Though much stronger than the 6.5-magnitude quake of 2013 and the 6.3 quake in 2011 that devastated Christchurch, this recent earthquake appears to have caused less damage, as it was centered in a remote region and the energy was dispersed across a greater area.
The past decade's quakes sparked preventative efforts to secure buildings and tanks, which may have reduced the degree of damage suffered this past weekend. "I visited approximately 15 wineries today," said Marcus Pickens, of Wine Marlborough, a winegrowers organization. "Most were either in a state of site closure or had a very small team of site workers meeting with engineers or senior staff to assess potential damage, or to undertake site-safety measures."
Pickens added that he did not see any apparent structural damage to winery buildings, just damage to tanks and minor bottled-wine losses.
"We arrived at work to a tank on a lean and a couple of pallets of wine on the floor of our warehouse," said winemaker Clive Jones of Nautilus in Marlborough. "We transferred the wine to another tank and swept up the broken glass and soggy cardboard. We also had some broken bottles in our museum cellar. Our barrel racks moved around but remained upright. So yes, a setback, but a relatively minor one at this stage." One of the biggest wineries in the region, Cloudy Bay, put out a statement that it expects to be back to business as usual tomorrow.
However, communication across the region is limited and there have been major disruptions to power and water service. There have also been hundreds of aftershocks—many of them registering at greater than 4 in magnitude—and more to come.
The greatest challenges may be ahead, as travel logistics have become complicated. "Ports have been damaged, which will disrupt some shipping, and the road to Christchurch is a mess," explained Thomson, referring to State Highway 1, which runs along the coast of the South Island between Marlborough and Christchurch. Railroad tracks for freight have also sustained heavy damage.