Chef Ken Frank, owner of La Toque in downtown Napa, found a silver lining in the 6.0 magnitude earthquake that struck California’s Napa Valley on Aug. 24. With the epicenter located just 10 miles from his restaurant, Chef Frank was thankful it hit at 3 a.m.
“If it had hit at 8 o’clock on a Saturday night, it would have been tragic. People could have been hurt or killed by falling objects,” he says.
Fortunately, damage was measured in dollars, not injuries. Overall, damage to Napa Valley’s wine industry is estimated at $80.3 million, with 60 percent of Napa wineries affected, according to the Napa County Executive Office. Losses varied from $50,000 to $8 million per winery, but local distributors don’t expect supply or distribution from Napa wineries to be impacted.
About $1,500 worth of wine inventory was destroyed from La Toque’s collection, which dates back 15 years. Thousands of plates cracked and a cooler stopped running, leaving food to perish.
Chef Frank rented a refrigerated truck to preserve some of his supply, but financial losses totaled $25,000. Fortunately, he had business-interruption insurance, which covered the five days the restaurant remained closed. “The real tragedy for us was the business interruption, but many restaurants have no insurance and are going to struggle,” he adds.
For instance, Bounty Hunter Wine Bar and Carpe Diem Wine Bar in downtown Napa shuttered for a week due to structural damage. Cadet Wine Bar lost $15,000 to $20,000 in wine inventory.
Most wineries have plans in place should an earthquake strike. “We had gotten on top of this, so there’s no disruption in service,” says John Jordan, owner of Jordan Vineyard & Winery in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, referring to the winery’s seismic retrofit five years ago. “We also diversified so we have multiple off-site locations for wine.”
“We’re lucky the earthquake happened on a Sunday as opposed to a Monday, when barrels are in precarious positions and are moved around,” says Jeff Zappelli, director of membership for Hall Wines in St. Helena and WALT Wines in Sonoma.
The timing was also a blessing because fruit for the 2014 vintage was still on the vine, and tanks, for the most part, were empty. “The wine that’s in barrels will be in barrels for at least another year,” Zappelli continues. “You’re not going to see any price increases in the vintage because of the earthquake.”
Additionally, the supply and distribution from Napa wineries should not be impacted. “We don’t anticipate any overall delays in terms of an appellation-wide assessment,” says Cate Conniff, Napa Valley Vintners communications manager.
Still, there was damage and disruption. Tanks at Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery in Sonoma ruptured; barrels toppled at Matthiasson Wines in Napa; and bottles slipped out of racks at Napa’s Silver Oak Winery.
Craig Camp, managing partner of Cornerstone Cellars in Yountville, says the winery had significant damage to barrels and bottles.