Rocked and Rolled

All lives are more important than all wines.  Thank goodness no one lost their life in this past quake, but what a colossal bummer for the Napa guys.

While some might speculate that the Washington wine industry was pleased to hear that the big, bad competitors lost some wine to last week’s earthquake, we are the people who know best how much love, blood, sweat and tears go into a creation.  When that is taken away by surprise, hearts – all hearts, are slightly broken.   Having said this, I’ve read already that Australia’s industry is gearing up to fill fresh voids in the European export market…  I guess certain traits come with the territory when your territory is staffed exclusively by ex-prisoners.

The media made damages sound worse than the reality, as media is so apt to do. Only a handful of wineries lost barrels, but Silver Oak may have lost quite a bit of library wines.

To assume that wineries, even wineries near fault lines, could earthquake-proof their cellars, would be unrealistic.  The weight of any barrel, any full pallet, stacked barrels, stacked pallets, full tank is tremendous and movements with any one of these, endless.  From a wine that has sold out to a barrel that needs racking, from the tank that needs lees-settling to the pre-bottling blending, there is a constant flow of changes and tweaks.  Because so very many wine regions are near fault lines¸ inevitably souls and cellars will be, on occasion, crushed.

Napa was hit once before in recent history in 1989 by the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake.    


Paso Robles was hit by the 6.5 magnitude San Simeon quake that caused, among other things, 400 gallons of Turley’s 2002 and 2003 vintage to spill.  The quake hit on December 22, 2003 leading to what I imagine to be a terrible holiday season.

By far the most devastating to any wine country was not only the magnitude but the timing of the February 27, 2010 quake to the Chilean wine region (Carmenere, Cab, Sauv, Sauv. Blanc).  The astounding 8.8 magnitude earthquake hit the heart of the country’s wine region one week before harvest was in full swing.  I was in Mendoza that night and felt it.  Just to be clear, I was in a different country and across a mountain range and felt it.  The Casablanca, Bio Bio, Maule and Colchagua regions were hit the hardest.   An estimated 150 million bottles spilled and 12.5% of the country’s cellared wine was lost.  Wine-filled tanks unbolted from the cemented ground and toppled the next tank over and the next, in a domino effect that resulted in swimming pools of wine.   As I write, El Mercurio, one of the major Chilean newspapers has decided that Olivia Palermo’s new shoe line is a more important headline than the Napa’s current woes.  These two quakes were different beasts.

chile 2


Mendoza and Salta, Argentina’s two major wine regions, seem to get hit about every 5-10 years.  New Zealand quakes 20,000 times a year.  Two thousand of those are strong enough to be felt by people.  The Marlborough (think Sauv. Blanc) earthquake of 1848 is almost wholly responsible for how we regulate building codes in earthquake regions.  California, Oregon and Washington are all earthquake, if not volcano happy and are often both.  Australia is certainly prone.

Europe tends to have some respite from the upheavals, branching into more dubious territory the closer one gets to Iran and the east.  Austria (Gruner Veltliner etc.) might be the biggest contender in this category, but this entire wine region seems to have been spared a plethora of fault lines.

For now, it looks like we can all recoup and head into an unprecedentedly high tonnage season. 

Have a great weekend, Ashley