Chow Town

It will take years for Napa Valley wine industry to recover from earthquake

Hundreds of wine barrels damaged a pair of forklifts at the Kieu Hoang Winery in Napa, Calif.
Hundreds of wine barrels damaged a pair of forklifts at the Kieu Hoang Winery in Napa, Calif. The Associated Press

I didn’t plan to show up the morning after California’s largest earthquake since the Loma Prieto in 1989 that caused billions of dollars in damage.

But my timing allowed me a look at the aftereffects of the magnitude-6.0 tremor that struck just by American Canyon, a strip of warehouses that mark the southern entry into Napa County wine country.

Unless you drive right up to the worst-hit buildings and peer past the yellow tape, the damage might seem moderate, even cosmetic.

But Trefethen Winery is a good example: its 1868 tasting room barn used to list slightly to one side, now it veers dangerously the other way. Perhaps complete reconstruction won’t be necessary but the building will need extensive work and is uninhabitable for the time being.

At Hess Collection, two large tanks twisted and ruptured, spilling thousands of gallons of wine onto the grounds. The winery estimates the loss at around $4 million dollars.

Because the quake struck at 3:21 a.m., few were working and no winery staff members were injured, though the homes of many winery workers were damaged. In truth, the damage is extensive and though not many saw quite the losses at Hess Collection, the effects of this earthquake will last for years.

Downtown Napa’s famed buildings, like the Post Office, the Opera House and the Uptown Theatre, all sustained a great deal of damage.

The timing of the earthquake might have helped in other ways: many had just emptied barrels in anticipation of the rapidly approaching harvest. So while the Internet is filled with photos of barrels jumbled together like a pile of wine corks, the losses could have been worse. And everyone is grateful that no deaths have been associated with the quake.

The damage estimates for Napa and Sonoma counties and the surrounding areas likely will run into the billions.

Doug Frost is a Kansas City-based wine and spirits writer and consultant who for decades has happily educated the public about all things drink. He is one of only three people in the world to have earned the coveted titles of master sommelier and master of wine. He contributes a monthly wine column for The Star’s Food section.