Napa Valley wineries are open, and wine is flowing in tasting rooms, but, as with many events in the news, the aftereffects of the Magnitude 6.1 earthquake last week are still being evaluated. Among the small, specialty wineries, the “economic aftershocks” of the big quake last week may not be fully known until late this week, when all of the damage is tallied. Individual winemakers are suffering from degrees of damage and loss that are, in some cases, catastrophic!
NBC news just quoted damage estimates for Napa at $300 million and for Sonoma, at $4.5 million! Despite all of the damage, experts doubt that the spillage will have any effect on the long-term economics of the industry, which generates $13 billion a year for the regional economy.
Up and down the Valley, tens of thousands of cracked and broken wine barrels are being pulled from the rubble of barrel rooms. The damages have exceeded $48 million, and the cost is still increasing. Some boutique wineries have lost most, or all, of their 2013 vintages. The reason that small wineries are the primary victims of the quake is that most of them lease warehouse space at places like the Laird Family Estate, a winery and custom crush facility that rents space to over 40 small vineyards to make, store, and age wines.
When the earthquake hit, thousands of barrels, which were stacked in stainless steel racks almost to the rafters, came crashing to the ground in a cascade of splintering oak, popping corks and spurting liquid. Crane operators at Laird spent the whole week gingerly removing at least 2,000 barrels from a massive heap. It’s a tricky process because each 500-pound barrel plucked from the pile can upset the delicate balance and cause a collapse, like a high-stakes game of Jenga.
Barrels hold the equivalent of 25 cases of wine and cost as much as $1500 apiece. Some 120 of the Valley’s 500 vineyards reported at least some earthquake damage to wine or structures, from from tumbling barrels. Craig Camp, the managing partner of Cornerstone Cellars in Yountville, which stores its wine at Laird, had this to say
“We are worried, to say the least,” said Camp, who believes he lost as many as 300 cases of wine that sells for between $60 and $200 a bottle, about 30 percent of his inventory. “Nobody has earthquake insurance. It’s just cost-prohibitive.”
Carneros, which is the winemaking area nearest to the earthquake epicenter, Yountville, and the western hills were hit the hardest, said Russ Weis, who is chairman of the Napa Valley Vintners Association and the general manager of Silverado Vineyards.
Barrels damaged other winemaking equipment, including pumps, barrel lifts, hoses, washers, valve shutoffs, tank fixtures, portable cooling units, forklifts and other processing equipment. Still, if the earthquake had occurred during the day, 500-pound barrels would have fallen on workers! As it was, there were NO deaths associated with the earthquake and aftershocks.
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