Grapevine: Nature Wields Its Power In California Wine Country

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

Several columns back, I presented the case for the ongoing battle between Man and Nature to control our lives and our destiny. As Man evolves and advances, and attempts to dominate and negate the whims of Nature’s forces, we are constantly reminded of Nature’s continuing impact on Man’s environment and thus, the fragility of life on earth.

Just as Man advances in conquering one aspect of the natural order, Nature roars back with a forceful reminder of its superiority and dominance. Especially in vineyards. Natural disasters and phenomenon such as wildfires, hurricanes, hailstorms, drought and disease continuously assault vineyards. Yet, man valiantly perseveres and comes back each time.

Last week, Nature again tested Man’s fortitude and resilience.

A 6.0 earthquake with an epicenter in California wine country, shook Napa and

Sonoma Counties’ cities and wineries. As vineyard owners continue to grapple with the three year drought hitting much of the West, along comes another volley from Nature to remind them of the precariousness of their livelihoods.

The potential death and destruction of such a forceful earthquake was averted. There were no deaths and although the estimated damage was significant – $1 billion as I pen this column – the Napa earthquake pales in comparison to the 63 deaths and $6 billion in destruction caused by the 1989 earthquake that shook the San Francisco Bay area.

But any earthquake is traumatic. Disheveled storage racks of broken bottles of precious wine and splintered barrels of aging wine, photos of which have been plastered across social media all week, bring home the almost instantaneous transition from calm to chaos that Nature can wreak.

And just as local residents and winery owners were recovering from the damage and stress of this earthquake they were hit with seventy additional aftershocks this past week, six of which were of magnitude 3.0 or greater.

Here are few of the reports I’ve been able to cull:

1) At B.R. Cohn Winery, casks stacked 10 to 12 high rolled off racks in the warehouse. The wine-covered floors accounted for up to 50 percent of the winery’s production.

2) At Hess Collections, two 20,000 liter tanks of Cabernet Sauvignon, filled with the equivalent of 53,000 bottles, cracked and spilled, ruining up to half of the 2013 production.

3) At Silver Oak Winery, one of the most prestigious and family-owned wineries in the United States, damage was not as significant as it could have been. After suffering from a devastating fire in 2006, new buildings were constructed, with earthquakes in mind. This mitigated losses; in addition, new barrel rack storage design made the racks more stable than conventional racks. Thankfully, the damage to wine in barrels, estimated to be valued at $32,500 each, was minimal. However, hundreds of older bottles, worth several hundred dollars each, toppled from shelves, smashing on the winery floor.

Overall, the effect on fans of Napa and Sonoma wines appears negligible – this time. Much of the 2014 crop was still on the vines; a good deal of 2013 vintage wines are still in barrels, not more easily damaged bottles.

What will the future bring? Hopefully this is a wake-up call for wineries to follow the lead of Silver Oak.

Is this round of earthquakes a reminder of Nature’s ability to give and take at its discretion? After all, the very land that was affected by earthquakes this month is the same valuable land of rolling hills and diverse soils that Nature’s shifting tectonic plates created millions of years ago.

Nick Antonaccio is a 35-year Pleasantville resident. For over 15 years he has conducted numerous wine tastings and lectures. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.

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