Napa, Sonoma wineries mop up

  • Christian Quinonec, racker/blender at Sebastiani Winery in Sonoma, prepares to transfer wines from damaged tanks into empty tanks, Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. Fourteen of the winery's tanks were damaged from the earthquake, causing loss of wines of all varieties. (Crista Jeremiason/The Press Democrat)

When the earthquake struck shortly after 3 a.m. Sunday, Fred Biagi immediately began thinking about the warehouse and distribution business that he co-owns with his brother, Greg.

After all, Biagi Bros. has warehouses in the Napa County city of American Canyon, storing millions of bottles of wine right near the epicenter of the magnitude-6.0 quake.

His worries mounted until an employee reached the warehouses at 5 a.m. and reported limited damage. Twenty pallets at one warehouse tumbled to the floor during the shaking, damaging 1,120 cases of wine — a fraction of the 3.5 million cases stored at the facility. A 100,000-square-foot warehouse nearby had damage only to a few doors.

“We’re very lucky,” said Biagi, who was in at 7 a.m. Sunday cleaning up. “It’s amazing how few bottles got broken.”

Others weren’t so fortunate.

Winemakers across Napa and Sonoma counties scrambled to assess the damage Sunday from the largest earthquake to hit Northern California in a quarter-century. While many said they avoided catastrophic damage, others spent the day cleaning up mounds of shattered glass and pools of precious wine that poured out of broken oak barrels and ruptured steel tanks.

Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery in Sonoma reported the quake damaged 14 tanks of red and white wines. Some wine from the tanks sprayed out as though from a fire hydrant, creating large puddles. Each tank at the winery holds 30,000 to 70,000 gallons.

In Napa, two 20,000- gallon tanks at The Hess Collection winery on Mount Veeder were damaged, with one resembling an enormous soft-drink can that had been crumpled. The damage resulted in almost 15,000 cases of 2013 cabernet sauvignon spilling onto the property, including flooding the garden courtyard and coloring it with large swaths of red. That included 2,000 cases of high-end wine that would retail for about $60 per bottle.

“It looked like some giant hand just came down and crushed them and the wine came out of them,” said James Caudill, spokesman for The Hess Collection.

The visitor center suffered damage when barrels also came off the rack, breaking some windows. It will be closed until employees can clean up.

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