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The Day the Earth Didn’t Stand Still

Napa's 6.1-magnitude earthquake rattles nerves and buildings, but the wine industry is rallying

Posted: Aug 25, 2014 2:00pm ET

By MaryAnn Worobiec

I'm from Cleveland, so when I moved to California in 1996, a lot of my friends warned me about "The Big One." I assured them that I'd rather go years of maybe having an earthquake to knowing that I'd have to endure year after year of dreadful winters.

On Sunday morning, The Pretty Big One hit.

It woke us up at 3:20 a.m. I live about 15 miles from the epicenter. It's an uneasy feeling, the ground rumbling underneath you, hearing things fall and break in your house, long seconds of wondering when it will be over. Thankfully, I'm fine, along with everyone I know. My biggest loss was a Juan Marichal bobblehead (he probably went out bobbling, a friend reassured me). Some of my friends fared much worse, sifting through piles of broken glass and houses that have been tossed. "Everything breakable I own is broken," a friend posted on Facebook.

When the sun came up, I made my way to check on our office in the 1903-built Noyes mansion in downtown Napa. It was hit pretty hard, but that solid, old-time construction means it is solidly on its feet. I only counted a dozen broken bottles. Not bad.

Despite the war-zone vibe of the rubble, dust, helicopters and constant sirens, I was impressed with how quickly downtown Napa was secure with a sense of calm. Streets were closed, potential falling bricks were blocked off, and there were plenty of emergency vehicles from neighboring cities present. I saw several tourists packing their cars at the local B&Bs, but others walked around, taking in the damage. Despite the earthquake, it was another beautiful day in Napa.

We're still hearing reports about how the quake affected the wine industry—I'm hearing about broken bottles and barrels toppled, nothing catastrophic. If you like to look for silver linings, most of Napa's harvest hadn't gotten underway yet. That means fermentation tanks were largely empty, and therefore not a source of loss. It also means that most of the wine stored in wineries have been bottled and moved off site to make room for the new vintage. It could have been a lot worse.

I'd like to point out that behind the scenes, there has been a constant network of vintners checking in with each other (and with us), making sure everyone was OK, and offering a hand to clean up. With all the chaos of those first few hours, there was comfort in hearing from so many other wine lovers. When something like this happens, it's as if the world just stops for a moment, and we just look around to make sure everyone is safe.

My best wishes go out to everyone who is still picking up the pieces. I know we are all going to have a tale to tell the next time we are sharing a glass of wine about the earthquake of 2014. Hopefully you still have a wineglass intact.

Tim Fish
Sonoma County —  August 25, 2014 4:54pm ET
Welcome to the blog world, good read.
Nancy Goodman
Woodinville, WA —  August 26, 2014 2:27pm ET
From those of us working in the WA state wine industry, our thoughts and prayers are with you, Napa.
Tim Mc Donald
Napa, CA USA —  August 27, 2014 8:13pm ET
So well written MaryAnn and our place was built in 1880 and it's about a mile from Wine Spectator and we lost hundreds of bottles- nearly all of our glassware and most of our china etc. People called to see how they could help, a half dozen friends who were not affected came over to scoop up broken things. While the memories will fade, I am so grateful for the family and friends that helped each other in a great time of need. This heartbreak 30 seconds shows that there is always so much to be thankful for.
Leonard & Terry Korn
Palm Springs, Ca —  August 29, 2014 7:22pm ET
Being a native 69 year old Californian,history proves we learn well..I'm sure there will be planning to ensure in the in the future even less damage in another quake.Sometimes we forget the possibilities.This will definitely wake everyone up. No pun intended !!

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