Napa Winery Loses Hundreds of Bottles in Quake, Including "Priceless" Blend

The head of one of Napa's celebrated wineries woke up to find hundreds of bottles destroyed by the early Sunday morning earthquake that shook the region. Marianne Favro reports. (Published Sunday, Aug 24, 2014)

The head of one of Napa's celebrated wineries woke up to find hundreds of bottles destroyed by the early Sunday morning earthquake that shook the region. 

David Duncan, president and CEO of Silver Oak winery, said he encountered a wine cellar full of broken bottles when he arrived at the Oakville headquarters at about 4:30 a.m. A water main that goes from the well to the winery was also damaged. 

“We were picking them up with shovels and brooms and it was a mess," said Duncan, who tweeted photos of toppled cases, shattered plates and pools of red wine.

In all, he estimates the winery lost hundreds of bottles, including a "unique, one-of-a-kind" blend that is not available for general sale.

"We consider them to be sort of priceless because they're unique components of our blend, and so it's a bit of a bummer," he said. 

The overall impact at Silver Oak was minimal compared to some of the more serious damages sustained in the 6.0-magnitude earthquake that shook residents awake across the region early Sunday morning. The earthquake left at least 120 people injured, including six in critical condition, and tens of thousands without power after it hit just after 3:20 a.m. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency. 

Still the quake hit at the heart of California's multi-billion dollar wine industry, which is a major source of economic development and tourism draw in Northern California. Wineries and shops throughout the region also reported inventory losses as bottles and barrels slid off shelves and racks. Some tasting rooms and attractions were forced to remain closed for the day, missing out on hundreds of customers on a peak weekend for summer tourism. 

A spokeswoman for the Napa Valley Vinters said the trade association has not yet been able to complete a comprehensive assessment or estimate of damages across the region.  She said the group is focusing its efforts today on making sure members have information and resources they need, such as contact information for gas companies and emergency shelter options.

“We are coming into a busy time of year, but again, we dont know what the impact of this is,” Patsy McGaughy, the group's communications director, said. “It's just too soon to tell how this may impact not only the wine industry but also tourism." 

The Napa Valley Wine Train had to cancel Sunday's scheduled trips from downtown Napa to St. Helena so workers could inspect the 25 miles of tracks traveled during the wine-and-food tours. Staff on site also dealt with a loss of power and broken bottles in the gift shop. 

"Currently we are checking all of our bridges, but everything is looking good right now and we believe tomorrow we'll be up and running," said Andrea Guzman, promotions and partnerships director for Napa Valley Wine Train. 

Still, that meant no ride Sunday for about 600 passengers the company expected to pay $119 and up for the journey and meal aboard vintage train cars. Those who purchased tickets in advance received full refunds, Guzman said.  

At the Robert Biale Vineyards, a row of racks fell, toppling up to 15 barrels of Zinfandel, Sangiovese and Barbera.

“It looks like some of the barrels are in a rather precarious position,” said Tom Skinner, a tasting room employee at the winery, south of Yountville.

The winery is waiting until its cellar staff comes in on Monday to determine exactly how much was lost, he said.

“It could have been devastating if it was during regular business hours,” he said. “We’re all thankful that we weren’t open. There was no one here when it happened.”

Winery Cuvaison had to close its Carneros tasting room along Highway 121 in Napa for the day after the quake left its barrels "topsy-turvy," the wife of one company executive said. 

Karen Schuppert, whose husband is president and CEO of the winery, said about 100 of the 2,500 barrels on site rolled off their racks, though only two sustained more serious damage. The wine stored there won't be affected by the shake, she said. 

"The hard part is just going to be getting the physical labor to get it all propped up properly and to make sure some of those racks aren't completely bent to where they're irreparable," she said. 

Storage in the tasting room held up well, she said, with only about a dozen bottles breaking. They expect to reopen the site Monday at 10 a.m. While her home saw more damage, she said she was thankful things weren't worse. 

"Mostly, just a lot of our art has been destroyed, but some things were spared," said Schuppert, who runs a shoe business called Napa Sole. "Everybody's without a scratch and obviously just shaken, but no harm to us in any way.”

Duncan, who shared photos of the damages on Twitter, also said he expects no overall impact on the vintage at Silver Oak. By mid-morning, the water main was being repaired and employees were starting to show up for work. He said while he gave the tasting room manager the option of staying closed, he expected to be open to the public Sunday.

And even with some closures, wine enthusiasts didn't let the shake put a stop to their plans to spend the day sipping the region's famed libations. The St. Helena-based V. Sattui Winery reported business as usual on Sunday. 

"We're pretty much unscathed," the winery's Robert O'Malley told NBC Bay Area. "In fact, there are people picnicking." 

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