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Earthquake Strikes Napa Valley

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

Tim Fish
Posted: August 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.

Bill Belkin
Edina, MN —  August 25, 2014 9:23am ET
These are times all of us "adults" heed the lessons we are taught as children, "...no crying over spilled milk..." Although the loss of one of a kind wines is enough to bring any oenophile to his/her knees, the value of human life is placed so much higher up on the priority list. Thank goodness everyone is OK. Anyone needing help cleaning up, well I am sure the line forms on the right!
Mark Horowitz
New York, NY —  August 25, 2014 11:06am ET
Bill has expressed my feelings, and, I am sure, the feelings of many readers (and winemakers), so eloquently. Broken bottles can be cleaned up, but human life is, as he says, so much higher up on the priority list. So glad injuries were minor and there was no apparent loss of life.
Karen Ciccarone
Port Hadlock, WA USA —  August 25, 2014 1:17pm ET
I agree with Bill and Mark. While the detail for the wine loss and cask damage was extensive in this article, I would have preferred the emphasis FIRST on the 87 injuries. It would have been more empathetic to even say that the extent and severity of those injuries was unknown at this time.
Yes, I want to know how Napa was affected,historic buildings, wineries, great city, but life and injury is the priority in the scheme of things.
While wine is important to all us oenophiles, let's remember, it is just wine.
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  August 25, 2014 1:27pm ET
Some vintners and their families/crews/facilities made it through with little more than frayed nerves. So sorry for those who suffered injuries and loss.
Paulo Roberto T Valente
Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil —  August 25, 2014 1:38pm ET
Dear Friends,

I am very sad. I wish fast restore to the normal life.

God bless you.
Bill Dwyer
Southlake, TX —  August 25, 2014 1:45pm ET
I appreciate you taking the time to write an article about the impact of the earthquake on the industry. I don't agree with the complaints that you didn't also cover the impact outside of the wine industry. You run a specialized publication specific to this industry. You don't have the resources or expertise to redundantly report the information that is already available through numerous news sources.
You did however shed light on a part of the story that regular news sources will not cover.
Thanks again!
William Gray
Oak Ridge, TN —  August 25, 2014 3:32pm ET
I agree with Bill Dwyer. WS did the right thing and I trust that it will continue to bring us updates as more is learned about the impacts of this event.
Canada Wine Consultants
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada —  August 25, 2014 3:59pm ET
Thank ou WS for keeping us in the loop. I sure we would all like more information on the outcomes for those injured, those who suffered losses and the extent of the losses to the individual wineries, but that will come as the information becomes available. Good work on starting the process quickly!
Jeffrey Matchen
New York, NY —  August 25, 2014 4:21pm ET
I have read that many businesses (presumably including wineries) don't carry earthquake insurance due to the cost. I hope Wine Spectator will continue to provide coverage of the impact on wineries, many of which are small businesses that can ill afford the loss. I also hope they let readers know if any charitable relief funds are established to help those hurt by the earthquake.

As a lover of the Napa and Sonoma region as well as their wines, I hope that recovery is quick and I would certainly like to know how I can help.
Ben Treadaway
San Antonio, TX —  August 25, 2014 5:13pm ET
Thanks WS for keeping the consumers and avid readers of WS informed. Please continue reporting during the week.
Glenn Bowman
Indianapolis Indiana —  August 25, 2014 6:17pm ET
I also very much appreciate the coverage. I am in Indiana and member of numerous wine clubs. I've contact all and received response from only some (understandable under these dire circumstances). So keep us informed. I hate to see this loss and worry about impact upon the wineries. I will continue my support for California wine industry.
Michael Adams
Salem OR UZA —  August 25, 2014 7:46pm ET
Would it make sense to publish protocols on Earthquake Retrofitting of Wineries and Bonded Warehouses? Some of those barrel stacks get pretty high.
Kenneth Cangin
West Chester, PA —  August 26, 2014 12:51am ET
My heart goes out to those who have suffered from this terrible situation. Thank God there was no loss of life. I hope the injured recover quickly. I have been to the region countless times and the people are fantastic. They are strong and WILL recover. Please keep us informed if a Relief Fund is established. It is the least we can do for all they have done for us with their marvelous wines and terrific hospitality.
Alexander Schaefer
Decatur GA USA —  August 27, 2014 7:08pm ET
Sounds like it could have been much, much worse. My heart goes out to those who were injured and those who lost inventory and product. I wish everyone a complete recovery.
Thank you Wine Spectator for delivering the depth of reporting we have come to expect from you. I have followed this story on all the major US media and Wine Spectator has provided the most complete assessment of what transpired.
George M Wood
Napa. CA. Napa County —  August 28, 2014 9:25am ET
A significant human tragedy was avoided by the timing of the earthquake, most of us were in our beds; and not sitting at our desks or walking on the streets, or in restaurants. In the same vane the cost of the tragedy will be felt for years since many of the city's oldest and most attractive buildings are red tagged, and may never be occupied again. Our community, just recovering from the recession, is now faced with additional cost, loss of revenue, and the loss of businesses that may never return.

My family was unharmed; for which I am eternally grateful. I did lose nearly 600 bottles of wine, wine that took me, at my modest salary, years to collect, it will surely never reach that level again. The lesson, if there is one, is that it make no sense to not enjoy what you have, as you may just be saving it to watch drain out of the cellar...oh, and don't cheap out on the racks - I had an expensive cooling system, and inexpensive racks...I could have replaced the cooler and saved the wine, but the structural failure of the racks is a one-time thing.

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