The Napa Earthquake

On Sunday I was working on a post about wine vintage and why it matters. Then I saw this:

Our first thoughts, of course, are for the safety of the people affected and the speedy recovery of the injured. Many, many people have lost their homes. The Governor has declared a state of emergency. It’s a mess.

But I have to confess that my second thought was,

“What about the wine?!?!”

Sometimes we forget that winemakers are, at their very core, farmers. Their crop just happens to be grapes that will be turned into wine.

As with all agriculture, vineyards are subject to the perils of climate, pests, drought and EARTHQUAKES. But unlike their brethren farmers who grow tomatoes or corn or zucchini, vineyards carefully tend their fields then harvest, crush, age, and bottle their crop before they make a penny in sales. This process can take a year or two, or even more. Their crop is at risk every step of the way.

So how might the Napa earthquake affect the Napa wine industry?

Let’s start with the vines.

If you’ve studied wine, you’ve heard the term “terroir”. This is the way winemakers describe the influence that the soil in which grapes are grown has on the wine they produce. Earthquakes shift the ground below the vines and could very well alter the terroir. A shift in the layers of soil and rock below the vineyards can also dramatically change the path of irrigation to the roots.

Already faced with a drought of epic proportions, this could be a big deal. Good thing that grape vines like to be stressed.  

Also unlike other crops, grape vines are used over and over rather than torn up and replaced every year. Winemakers have a lot of time and money invested in their vines which will often produces better and better wine as they age and settle in to the soil.

Only time will tell what effect the shifted ground in the vineyards will have.

Most of the 2012 reds and 2013 whites were comfortably resting and aging in barrels, lovingly tended to by the winemakers who use their expertise in deciding exactly when the wine is at its best and ready to be bottled.

These barrels used to be neatly stacked. Now they are a jumbled mess.

Each of these barrels contains enough wine for about 300 bottles. Many, many wineries had barrels split open. The entire contents lost. Even the barrels that seemed to survive might have hairline cracks that let oxygen (wine’s mortal enemy) into the mix. Only time will tell.

We’ve all seen the heartbreaking pictures of shattered bottles of wine. These bottles were the finished product and represent the income that each winery hoped to finally gain after two or more years of developing the wine. Gone.

The bottles that were lost at Silver Oak were part of their “Library Collection”. Imagine you had a box of hand-written letters from your dearly departed great-grandmother and they were lost in a fire. I’m sure that is how the Duncan family felt about these wines. They were cherished, irreplaceable, priceless and completely lost.

The 2014 crop is, for the most part, still safely hanging on the vines awaiting harvest in the next couple of months. Phew – at least the 2014 vintage is safe, right?

Not so fast.

Many wineries are still assessing the damage to their winery facilities and equipment. Some have lost the very barrels that they were hoping to put the 2014 wine in after harvest and crush.

That’s a problem. It’s not like winemakers can go on Amazon to purchase new French oak barrels with free two day Prime delivery. Not going to happen.

napa winery tasting

The wine industry will feel the impact of the Napa earthquake for some time. The larger wineries will likely be able to weather the storm more easily than the little guys.

One of the very heartening thing that I’ve seen over and over again on social media is the shout out from one winery to another offering whatever help is needed. Yes, the wine industry is a multi-billion dollar business.

But farmers help other farmers when they are in trouble. And that’s pretty cool.

I’m going to do my part by buying and drinking some Napa wine. What about you?

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  1. I saw a link posted this morning for a winery that was selling their unbreakable wine, they pick a bottle that survived and send it to you

  2. I hope that sense of community helps the smaller vineyards recover – I can’t imagine losing my livelihood and so many years of work.
    Dana recently posted…Beginnings and endsMy Profile

  3. I saw some of these pictures on social media Sunday – awful. Of course, the top concern is always people but losing your income and livelihood is horrible.
    Love that the wineries are helping each other!!!
    Kim recently posted…My Wake-Up CallMy Profile

  4. I had not considered the fact that there would be nowhere to store the 2013/14 wine once the oak barrels were trashed. Or that the cracked ones could still allow oxygen to enter. It’s so sad. Thanks for this post Mo. I came away much better educated about the true scope of how bad it is and how the Napa folk do need help. Here’s hoping for mild aftershocks.
    Kelly L McKenzie recently posted…Letting Kids Eat WhateverMy Profile

  5. You’ve expressed so well poignantly the loss, Mo. I don’t drink wine but I’ve spent a few vacations in Napa and know the beauty and culture and craftsmanship that is so prevalent there. I’m reminded of the time we were evacuated from our home in the Colorado foothills of the Pike National Forest when a raging wildfire was just over the ridge. My recurring thought was that the house could be replaced but if the pine trees and natural beauty that we loved living in were burned, it would take longer than my lifetime to bring that back. And my livelihood wasn’t tied to it, like these Napa “farmers” are. And I found, like you pointed out here, that neighbors were neighbors – kind and supportive and wanting to help each other. It’s so affirming when that human spirit reveals itself.
    Barbara recently posted…Three late summer love affairsMy Profile

  6. It is heart wrenching to see the damage…thanks for this informative post, Mo. xoxo
    Sandy recently posted…My Best of the Best from Travel Week ~ AsiaMy Profile

  7. We have a college friend who makes wine in California, but he was thankfully not involved in the quake. So sorry for the ones who were. It’s kind of like when we are hit here on the gulf Coast by a hurricane. So terribly sad, but glad everyone is safe.
    Leslie Anne recently posted…Update on Southern Belle SoldierMy Profile

    • Having spent my childhood on the Florida west coast, and still having family there, I am always concerned about hurricanes. Sometimes people underestimate the incredible damage that water and wind can do. Hope this continues to be a relatively quiet season!
      Mo Lux recently posted…Santa Barbara Wine TastingMy Profile

  8. I think I’ll go out and purchase a bottle tomorrow. I just feel sick for all these people and the hard work that was ruined. I hope they’re able to bounce back without too much pain.
    Trish recently posted…Week in Photos {August 25-31}My Profile

    • We were just up in Sonoma where they were relatively unscathed but everyone we talked to knew people in Napa who had suffered damage. The talk has been all about the small wineries who will have the toughest time recovering.
      Mo Lux recently posted…Santa Barbara Wine TastingMy Profile

  9. mo, thanks for this informative post. i will be doing my part as well and drinking napa wine to help the cause!
    catherine gacad recently posted…The Buck Stops Here: When Your Children Steal from YouMy Profile

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