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Napa and Sonoma Wineries Assess Damage as Floodwaters Recede

Focus is on cleanup as vines and wines were mostly unaffected

Posted: January 3, 2006

On New Year's Eve, Markham president Bryan Del Bondio drove to his winery and saw a river of mud and water floating through the crush area. A dozen old, empty barrels had floated into neighboring vineyards and a couple of crush motors were submerged. A few days later, the waters receded, leaving behind mud and debris that need cleaning up. This seemed to be the typical scenario for many in the California wine industry, as floodwaters recede and vintners across Napa and Sonoma assess the damage caused by flooding over the past few days.

No appreciable loss of wine or destruction to vineyards has occurred, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in six counties, including Napa and Sonoma. Some of the heaviest flooding was seen in downtown Napa, where roughly 600 homes and 100 businesses received major damage, with about the same amount suffering minor damage, according to city officials. Most of the wine industry, though, is not located in the downtown area. More information is still being collected, but city officials now put the damage in Napa at $75 million and climbing.

The flood waters easily pushed aside a few vines in Napa.
As vintners cleaned up, they reported little injury to grapevines, which are dormant at this time of year. Terry Hall, communications director for the Napa Valley Vintners said, "The vines are prepared for it. We had rain in the beginning of November and the cover crop was activated early. Soil protection is great. There was minimal erosion." Hall said that there is debris in the vineyards, but most of it is dead grass that will eventually dry off and blow away.

Several wineries located along the Napa River were inundated with water, though many tasting rooms were already closed for the holidays, so the floods had little impact on winery tourism. Bob Little, director of public relations at Silver Oak said that even though 3 feet of water entered the facility, the winery was prepared and suffered little. "We had done quite a bit of flood preparation and we didn't lose any barrels or wine," he said.

Some of the local residents who were affected included members of the wine industry, such as Dolce winemaker Greg Allen. As Gov. Schwarzenegger met with Napa city and county officials on Monday, he toured some of the flood-ravaged area, including the home that Allen rented. "Our house was pretty representative of the extreme state of damage," Allen said. He added that the emergency services did an "outstanding job" notifying the area of impending floods and evacuating the neighborhood before the waters rose to flood level.

In Sonoma, the town of Guerneville was the hardest hit, with waters reported at 9 feet above flood level. Korbel, which sits about four miles from the center of town, was unaffected. Margie Healy, Korbel's director of public relations, said, "Our people have been through this so many times, we were prepared." Sandbags and concrete barriers protected the winery.

Nick Frey, executive director of the Sonoma County Grape Growers, said he was not concerned about the state of the vineyards in Sonoma. Frey acknowledged that cleanup of the debris in vineyards will be substantial and there might be harm to trellising. There are also minor concerns of erosion and increased phylloxera susceptibility, but he doesn't expect long-term damage to the vineyards or the resulting wines.

Threats of rain in Northern California continue for the next few days, but there are currently no flood watches.

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