Napa, Sonoma wineries mop up

Winemakers across Napa and Sonoma counties scrambled to assess the damage Sunday from the largest earthquake to hit Northern California in a quarter-century.|

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.

Napa Valley Vintners, a trade group representing 500 wineries, said it would take 24 to 72 hours to determine the extent of damage to the region’s industry. Initial reports suggested damage was concentrated in the Napa and south Napa areas, which received the most violent shaking.

The center of the quake, just 6 miles southwest of Napa, was located underneath a critical distribution center for the wine industry, home to a network of warehouses that distribute Northern California wines around the globe. American Canyon also is a major hub for industry suppliers that provide everything from wooden barrels to corks and bottles.

While social media was filled with images of broken glass at Napa Valley wineries, many said they expected the industry avoided a major blow.

“It could have been a heck of a lot worse,” said Alison Crowe, director of winemaking at Plata Wine Partners.

Crowe toured Safe Harbor Wine Storage in Napa on Sunday to gauge any damage to a tank where she was overseeing the winemaking. She said she only saw a few drops of wine on the floor and a few empty barrels nestled together.

“I was shocked. I was pleasantly shocked,” Crowe said.

Major wineries such as E&J Gallo Winery, Kendall-Jackson Vineyard Estates and Treasury Wine Estates reported minimal damage at most, according to their representatives.

Ludovic Dervin, the winemaker at Mumm Napa, said he was stunned when he walked into the winery’s tasting room.

“There were three glasses broken. That’s all we found. There was no breakage or spillage of wine,” he said. “We expected a fine mess.”

The timing of the quake comes at the busiest time of year for Napa and Sonoma wineries, which are bringing in grapes that will become the 2014 vintage.

Damage to rural roads used by vineyards and wineries to haul grapes could lead to problems, several winemakers said.

For instance, Mount Veeder Winery is on Redwood Road in Napa, which buckled during the quake with portions of the road lying on top of each other, Caudill said. “Trucks will probably move slower and more cautiously along some of these roads,” he said.

But winemaker Crowe noted the past week’s cooler weather probably will help as it slowed down the ripening process, giving vintners more time to decide when to harvest their crop while they assess the effects of the quake. “It (the weather) really slowed harvest down,” she said.

Restaurants in downtown Napa were also affected, especially those housed in older structures, like the Carpe Diem Wine Bar. At the popular Morimoto Napa, liquor bottles housed in a separate storage area were toppled, while wine bottles in another area did not suffer much damage, general manager Michael Galyen said. The liquor bottles were stacked vertically, while the wine bottles were stored horizontally.

Galyen said he considered himself lucky as Morimoto did not suffer any structural damage. His crew came in early, allowing the restaurant to serve customers at 5 p.m. Sunday, albeit with a limited liquor selection.

“I know we were lucky. I have probably said that about 30 times today,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 521-5223 or On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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