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Napa Earthquake

Quake caused major damage to the tasting room and barrel storage building at Trefethen Family Vineyards. This was originally the Eshcol Winery building, built in 1886, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sunday’s earthquake caused extensive damage to some Napa Valley wineries, but the pattern was unpredictable, with some close to the epicenter faring better than those farther away.

The landmark building at Trefethen Family Vineyards sustained major damage in Sunday’s quake, with the upper floors leaning 4 feet to the west.

“No one can enter it, but we know it’s a mess,” said Jon Ruel, president of the winery, who noted that all of the winery’s relatively new modern winemaking buildings “are fine.”

The historic building, which is 128 years old, holds the visitors’ center and usually is filled with barrels of aging wine.

“We have engineers coming to assess the damage,” Ruel said. “We’re hoping we can brace the building so it’s safe, then clean it up and empty it and look at the options. We’re optimistic that we will be able to restore it.”

“We were very fortunate with the timing,” he added. “One, no one was in the building. And we had bottled most of the wine and shipped it out to an off-site storage area. The building contained the lowest inventory of any time of the year.”

They’re cleaning up in other facilities and making plans for a temporary tasting room, he said.

At the Hess Collection winery on Mount Veeder, the company lost two 10,000 gallon tanks in addition to 15,000 cases, spokesman Jim Caudill said Monday. He estimated the retail value of the broken wine bottles at nearly $4 million.

Caudill said wine ended up pouring out an entrance to the winery, turning a brown sandstone pathway a deep shade of purple.

“What used to be a sandstone walkway is now a wine-stained walkway,” Caudill said.

The winery also had barrels topple over in its storage room, and some bottles shattered during the shaking from the earthquake early Sunday. The company will spend the foreseeable future cleaning up the damage, but is planning intensive cleaning efforts Monday and Tuesday aimed at getting its tasting room open for business by Wednesday, he said.

Hess owns a production winery in American Canyon catering to its Hess Select brand, but that building didn’t see hardly any damage at all, Caudill said.

“You would expect with the epicenter near there the building would be trashed, but that wasn’t the case,” Caudill said.

The earthquake striking in the early predawn hours meant there was no one at the winery, which ensured no one was injured, Caudill said. But the damage was also wrought just as Hess was gearing up for harvest season, and is planning to bring in fruit from Lake County for crushing. It will draw up contingency plans with two of its tanks now unusable, he said.

He said distributors and restaurants that carry Hess brands have responded with an outpouring of support, which has made a difficult two days better.

“We’re in full assessment mode,” Caudill said. “We’re grateful to be part of this community. We’ll all quickly get through this.”

The Jackson Street Wine Warehouse in Napa had pallets holding cases and bottles of wine shift during the quake, but manager Jim Baskett said the actual number of broken bottles could be in the range of 100. He and his crews were working to clean up Monday afternoon, and will be doing so all week.

Baskett said each pallet has to be broken down and reorganized, and some stacks were leaning precariously on another. He said he has 60,000 cases of wine on hand, as well as several hundred barrels. None of the barrels ruptured or leaked, he said.

“The place is a disaster as far as case storage,” Baskett said. “I didn’t lose any barrels. It’s going to be a very labor intensive week for us.”

Security Public Storage and Napa Wine Cellars in American Canyon had no damage whatsoever, assistant manager Samantha Moore said. The company mainly stores 30- to 50-bottle cases, but they were kept in wrought-iron lockers that barely jostled during the quake, she said.

“Everything was pretty stable,” Moore said.

A representative at Napa Valley Wine Storage said the company sustained no structural damage to its building, but it is still assessing damage to inventory. Still, it fared better than some of the worst-case scenarios that have drawn media coverage, she said.

“We have had nothing like what other wineries have had,” she said.

Truchard Vineyards on Old Sonoma Road was among wineries closest to the epicenter of the 6.0-magnitude earthquake, which struck off Milton Road farther south. But the winery saw little damage aside from a few bottles breaking, office manager Linda Carr said.

Truchard was resuming bottling on Monday afternoon, and intends to reopen its tasting room Wednesday following a cleanup effort, Carr said. It didn’t lose any barrels of wine during the quake, she said.

“We’re feeling really fortunate,” Carr said.

Staff members at Artesa Vineyards and Winery, located west of Truchard off Henry Road, were feeling similarly fortunate, President Keith LaVine said Monday morning. The winery had some glasses and bottles break, as well as artwork get knocked off the walls.

After cleaning up Sunday, LaVine said the tasting room was reopened for business Monday. Only four barrels broke in its storage, he said. Some walls developed small, spider-web-like cracks in them, but are still structurally sound.

“We had a lot of wine bouncing around but it stayed intact,” LaVine said. “Our thoughts go out to our neighbors to the east and west.”

At Domaine Carneros, none of its tanks ruptured, and the winery had no bottles break or barrels topple over, although some came within a quarter-inch of doing so, CEO Eileen Crane said Monday afternoon.

South of Domaine Carneros at Saintsbury Wines, the winery was even closer to the epicenter of the quake, but co-founder David Graves said the main damage was to its wine library. He estimated a loss of 400 bottles, including rare and older wines that are irreplaceable. Its barrel storage room was upended in the quake, but most were empty pending the start of crush, and some took nicks and dents, Graves said.

The winery had to push back the start of crush by one day, Graves said. He said Saintsbury’s neighbors, Etude Wines and Bouchaine Vineyards, had more extensive damage because their barrels were filled with cabernet wine, which has to age longer in barrels. A representative for Etude said the winery was closed Monday.

Graves said the staff at Saintsbury was anticipating resuming normal operations after the chaos of Sunday.

“No news is good news to a certain extent for us,” Graves said. “All the barrels were empty – that’s why we’re in good shape.”

Cuvaison winery in Carneros reported no structural damage, but did lose some wine barrels, said President Jay Schupert.

The winery stores barrels six high, and about 300 of the 3,000 fell off their racks. “Fortunately, the bungs stayed in place and the barrels are very rugged, so we lost minimal wine,” he said.

At the tasting room nearby, they lost one case of wine plus three in storage.

Faced with an end to their lease at the end of September, the Ceja Family Vineyards may not reopen their downtown Napa tasting room in the wake of Sunday’s quake.

The winery had already received notice from downtown developer Todd Zapolski to vacate the property on First Street, said Dalia Ceja.

During the jolt, a 1-ton statue of Bacchus toppled in the tasting room. Its face was smashed, along with countless bottles of wine and wineglasses.

“It looked like a river of red,” Ceja said. “One wine glass survived.”

The Cejas were spending Monday morning cleaning up at their Carneros winery, which, she said, had some damage, but not as much as the Napa tasting room suffered. “We lost glasses, some bottles of wine, and some art,” she said.

Ceja said she was on her way back from San Francisco when the earthquake hit. “I rushed back to Carneros — my parents’ house is by the Carneros winery,” she said. “They were quite shaken up. There was quite a bit of damage in their house. They lost a lot of wines in their private cellar, library wines and special bottles.”

Ceja said her family was also nervously awaiting news from their storage facility in the Groskopf Warehouse in Sonoma. “We had just shipped 80,000 cases of 2012 wines there,” she said.

“But we are grateful for all of the support we have received from friends,” Ceja said. “The biggest thing is that we’re alive and our family is well,” she added, “and want to help any of our neighbors if we can.”

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This story has been corrected since first posting to reflect the estimated $4 million retail value of the broken cases of wine at the Hess Collection.


Features Editor

Sasha Paulsen has been features editor at the Napa Valley Register since 1999. A graduate of Napa High School, she studied English at UC Berkeley and St. Mary's College and earned a Masters in Journalism from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

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