Quake damages historic Napa winery building

  • The earthquake-damaged historic winery building dating from 1886 at Trefethen Family Vineyards leans Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, in Napa, Calif. The winery hopes to save the building that is in danger of collapse after San Francisco Bay Area's strongest earthquake in 25 years struck the heart of California's wine country early Sunday. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

NAPA — The images of wine industry damage in the aftermath of the American Canyon earthquake have been stark, from the jumbled piles of barrels in warehouse facilities to broken bottles smashed on the floor of restaurants and stores.

But for some in the industry, the most distressing image is that of the damage to the historic Eshcol Winery building at the Trefethen Family Vineyards on the northern outskirts of Napa. The grand wooden building, which survived countless earthquakes since its construction in 1886, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But the three-story structure, which was used as Trefethen’s visitor center and tasting room, is now leaning at a precarious angle and has been cordoned off as structural engineers assess its fate.

“It’s a treasure,” said James Lapsley, a UC Davis viticulture professor and author of “Bottled Poetry,” which chronicles Napa Valley from Prohibition to the modern era.

Wine historian Charles Sullivan said the building stands out among others designed by Hamden McIntyre in the 19th century because it was built of wood, instead of stone like those at Far Niente, Inglenook and Greystone. It also is notable because it was built in the valley, not near the hills like the others that used McIntyre’s pioneering gravity-flow system.

“The Napa and Sonoma areas are a collection of the great winery buildings in the world,” Sullivan said. “It’s unique. It’s a great wooden structure.”

Owners John and Janet Trefethen are committed to refurbishing the building if it can be repaired, pending an analysis from structural engineers, said Terry Hall, a spokesman for the winery. “That’s the goal. It’s such an integral part of the brand and history and legacy,” Hall said.

Eugene and Catherine Trefethen, John’s parents, bought the historic building and six small farms in 1968 and set out to restore the old winery. Their efforts helped convince the Department of the Interior in 1988 to put it on the National Register of Historical Places. Today, the family produces 60,000 cases annually, using only grapes grown on their own property, Hall said.

Over the last 128 years, the building withstood large and small earthquakes, including major temblors in 1906, 1989 and 2000. But Sunday’s magnitude 6.0 quake was too much.

Now, engineers must determine if it can be saved.

Production will not be affected because Trefethen has a modern fermentation facility and 13,000-square-foot barrel cellar. But the first floor of the damaged building was still used to age some wine in barrels. The second floor contains the winery’s original de-stemmer and crusher.

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