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Napa County wildfires

The remains of the Signorello Estate winery smoldered on Oct. 10, two days after the eruption of the Atlas Fire that leveled the winery along the Silverado Trail north of Napa. A new Sonoma State survey said many wineries do not have comprehensive disaster plans. 

The wine industry received a C+ grade on preparedness for catastrophic events, such as wildfires and earthquakes, that could potentially cripple a business, according to survey released Wednesday by Sonoma State University.

The survey covered 104 wine companies mostly located in Northern California with the rest scattered along the West Coast. Company representatives were asked 22 questions.

“It doesn’t give the industry a very high grade,” said Armand Gilinsky, SSU professor of wine business who oversaw the survey. He made the presentation Wednesday at a conference at the university’s Wine Business Spectator Learning Center. “Most companies are between deficiency and lost opportunity.”

The wine industry didn’t suffer that much direct damage from the devastating 2017 wildfires — with the notable exception of many employees who lost their own homes.

An earlier SSU survey found 99.8% of vineyard acres in the North Coast region suffered no damage and 93% of wineries reported no structural damage or long-term effects.

Still, the possibility of a major disaster lurks, as evidenced by the 2014 Napa earthquake and the extensive flooding that occurred in west county in February.

“How do we get companies aware of this?” Gilinsky said. “A great glue for all of that is to create a communications system, a preparedness system to develop organizational trust and also to invest in the outsources and capabilities that make your company resilient.”

The survey included more follow-up with representatives of four wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties. They were asked if their businesses had an emergency plan. Some responses included were: “That’s not my job, but we are working on a plan”; “No plan — get in our cars and drive away”; “Discovered ours during prep for interview.”

Not all businesses in the wine industry are unprepared. Turrentine Brokerage in Novato has developed a protocol for its employees to prepare for potential natural disasters.

The brokerage started six years ago to develop a plan “to have a reasonable chance to survive a disaster,” said Brian Clements, vice president.

It brought in trainers from the Red Cross every two years for its employees to learn first aid and other live-saving techniques, stored its data with an off-site server in another state and made safety kits that included items such as blank checks to make payroll or pay contractors, Clements said. The company also has a smartphone app so employees can access files to work with clients.

“If you do all that, you are going to have the best outcome,” Clements said.

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