What the Napa Earthquake Means for Wine Lovers

Rachel Tepper Paley
August 26, 2014

Toppled wine barrels in a storage room at Kieu Hoang Winery on August 25, 2014 in Napa, California. Photo credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty

In the early hours of Sunday morning, a forceful 6.1 magnitude earthquake shook the wine country north of San Francisco, causing massive damage to the town and vineyards of Napa. Amid the destruction, wine shops and vineyards are beginning to pick up the pieces.

"In a grand scheme of things, it was devastating," said Susan Kostrzewa, the executive editor of Wine Enthusiast magazine, which has reporters on the ground covering the catastrophe. Current estimates put the economic loss as high as $4 billion, the sum of valuable dollars lost from wrecked wine inventory, damaged facilities, and lost tourism.

"My big sigh of relief is that it happened at 3:30 A.M.," winemaker Elizabeth Vianna of Chimney Rock Winery told Wine Enthusiast contributing editor Virginie Boone. “It could have happened during the work day and people at wineries could have been killed.”

Boone added that California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency of southern Napa, the center of the earthquake.

The extent of damage to the actual vineyards is unclear, though Kostrzewa surmised that major shifts in the soil could impact the way vines get water, which “certainly could impact future production.” That said, she doesn’t anticipate severe repercussions to trickle down into the national marketplace. ”Eighty percent of the wineries were unaffected,” she stressed, although “the ones who were affected were very seriously affected.”

If damage was more widespread, consumers would truly have had something to be worried about. “Most of the wine that’s drunk in the United States is Californian wine, and a large percentage of it is from Napa,” she noted. “Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot: These are some of the most popular wines in the world.”

Kostrzewa pointed out that despite extensive damage, injuries were few and no fatalities have been reported, and most winemakers have earthquake insurance to help them rebuild. It’s possible that things could have been worse if not for the lessons learned from the last powerful quake to strike the Bay Area, the 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989

"That particular quake was the one that really rattled people in northern California and made them realize that this is real," Kostrzewa explained. Afterward, she said, many wineries invested in facilities that better secured barrels, bottles, and equipment.

So tip back a glass of red to Napa tonight.