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More on the earthquake



You’ll have to forgive me for feeling a little philosophical today about our wine industry, but a disaster will do that to you. We still don’t know the full extent of the damage from the big Napa earthquake, and we may never, but the fact is, if you escaped unscathed—as most wineries and wine businesses did—you’re counting your lucky stars. But if you were one of those impacted, I just hope your earthquake insurance was paid up.

Here’s a roundup from the Napa Valley Register, as of late yesterday afternoon. As you can read, some wineries are going to be digging themselves out of the damage for a long time. My heart goes out to Trefethen, Sciandri and others in that terrible situation, and to the local businesses in downtown Napa for whom life may never be the same.

How things can change in an instant! We go about our lives complacently, planning on the next dinner, the next meeting, the weekend—and then, Boom! Literally out of the blue something happens and the proverbial apple cart is not only upset, in some cases it’s turned into splinters. It’s happened to me, it’s probably happened to you although I hope not for it’s truly terrible when it does. What the answer is, I don’t know (I told you I’m feeling philosophical), except to expect the unexpected. Or “hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” as the old saying goes.

Actually, the epicenter of the event they’re now calling the South Napa Earthquake occurred, not in American Canyon as was at first widely reported (based on the USGS), but in Napa itself—specifically, beneath the Napa Valley Marina, on the Napa River. The break was in the West Napa Fault, believed to be an offshoot of the Calaveras Fault, which runs through the far East Bay,




more or less parallel to the Hayward Fault, on which I live; all are, of course, part of the infamous San Andreas Fault System. The West Napa Fault has been active before: it was responsible for the sizable Yountville Hills Earthquake of 2000 (magnitude 5.2), so to have called it a relatively unknown fault isn’t quite accurate. What geologists have learned in California, though, is that they’re far from having a complete understanding of just where all the fault lines are, or how powerful an earthquake any of them can trigger. We saw that after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, which seemed to take everybody by surprise, and led to a rather alarmed discussion about so-called blind thrust faults, which are like blind wine tastings in that nobody knows quite what’s going on. Los Angeles supposedly is riddled with such blind thrust faults; the speculation that one (or more) of them could rupture is one of the more dire scenarios for a city not short on apocalyptic futures.

Anyhow, the cleanup in Napa, Vallejo, AmCan and the surrounding areas goes on. Have a great day.

  1. I bet you’re not alone, Steve, to get philosophical when unfortunate events like this happened; it associates me with how the classical pieces of opera with tragic endings evoke our soulful emotions, a moment that may lead some to philosophical awaking.

    I felt quite relieved when I heard back from a winery that I cared about and learnt that there was not even a single glass that had been broken. However, it’s still bothering to know that private properties of some employees at the winery got damaged from the quake. Napa Valley Vintners had a meeting on Monday afternoon based on what I was told yesterday. Please spread the words on donation/fund-raising activities that you deem virtuous for those who are in need in the industry.

  2. A wine cellar is a very unsafe place to be in an Earthquake. I can’t imagine how bad it would have been if cellar staff had been in there.

    I hope someone comes up with another way to stack barrels economically and safely. Likewise, for case goods.

  3. I think that the Napa earthquake has opened a lot of peoples minds on how to protect their wines.

  4. Most wineries even in Napa did not experience barrel room chaos.

    On Tuesday, because I was in the Valley to attend a vertical Cab Sv tasting at Grgich Hills, I did stop by a couple of places to look at barrel rooms.

    The first stop was at Corison because Cathy Corison offered a comment that her winery had its own design for barrel stacking involving wood blocks between the barrels, much in the way that someone might put something behind a car’s wheels to keep it from moving. The idea is that the wood, also set up with a large wood set of rails running the length of the stack to keep it off the floor, would absorb shock better than the typical metal barrel platform which is fairly slippery. The notion in interesting, but unscientific.

    At Grgich itself, the barrels are held in a series of metal hoops that allow access to the bungs but keep the barrels physically separate. The stacks are connected side by side to give them lateral stability. Grgich lost eight barrels out of several thousand. But again, the system is not necessarily designed for earthquakes and certainly has not been tested for them.

    Barrel rooms are an accident waiting to happen. So far, our recent quakes have happened when barrel rooms are empty, but at some point, the industry is not going to be so lucky.

    It seems to me that the Wine Institute should fund a study to find safe ways to construct/stabilize barrel stacks. Universities have “shaking tables” on which they test systems to make buildings safe. It would take a massive or expensive effort to study how to do the same with wine barrels. They weight 500 pounds when full and they would have to be totally unforgiving if they got loose in an earthquake.

  5. Apropos of the comments above, I have penned an editorial about wine barrel room safety. If the topic is of interest, you can see it at

  6. My wife and I visited Napa three days after the earthquake. We were surprised at the number of small businesses in the downtown who had to close due to cracks in the walls and/or broken windows. A number of businesses were roped off and we saw signs that said “We will rebuild”.

    As you said most businesses and wineries were not affected; but to those that were it is quite an unexpected setback.

    Visitors are encouraged to visit……wineries are open and eager to sell you wine!

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