Napa's Luckiest Breaks: Why the Quake's Toll Could Have Been Much Worse

Ian White | August 25, 2014 | Story Wine and Spirits

Up in Napa, it was a day for brushing off the dust, surveying the damage, and hopefully, counting your blessings. Thankfully, Sunday morning's earthquake struck southern Napa at a time of day when few people were at work in the cellars and barrel rooms. But the region caught an even bigger break economically, thanks to the fact that the earthquake hit a few weeks before the annual crush season, "when most of the wine is on the vines—and not in the barrels," said Jeff Kandarian of Jam Cellars. "We lost a few hundred bottles of wine, and our tasting room could be closed for a while, but if this had happened when all of the wine was in barrel. I don’t even want to think about it."

Though the quake had serious repercussions for many locals—the casualties include one person dead, two in critical condition, and over 200 injured—much of the North Bay is thankful today that the damage wasn't worse. The mood here is upbeat, as people begin dusting themselves off and drying up the spilled wine.

That isn't to say that every business and home avoided damage. The ceiling and much of the building collapsed at Carpe Diem Wine Bar, and around 100 buildings are red-tagged, including historic sites like the Vintners Collective and the Post Office, which crumbled into the streets. Most of the destruction occurred in downtown Napa, while almost everything north of Yountville avoided significant damage.

The general feeling in Napa is of gratefulness and hope: “We were lucky. We cleaned up the studio this morning and now I’m closing down and taking my team out in the streets to help out," said Richard Von Saal of Von Saal Design and Build as he loaded a truck at his business. "It’s bad, but it could have been so much worse." When Nick Floulis of Pushback Wines felt the quake, he rushed into action. “I live in San Francisco but as soon I heard, I got my crew to start cooking at the Chubby Noodle Marina, and made dinner deliveries to friends all over the valley. People were in good spirits."

Historic wineries like Trefethen now rest at a tilt after being shaken from their foundations, and homeowners and business owners, like Justin Preiser, are waiting to find out when they can return to their homes: "I’m not sure if just my front porch needs to come down, or if there is more structural damage to the house. Things are moving quickly though, so I’m told I can expect word today."

I caught up with Larry Lewis, who lives near downtown Napa, within 100 feet of the fault, and spent much of the night on TV talking about the 75-foot long crack running next to his house. "The concrete literally folded on top of itself. The crack goes for four blocks, so most of us in this neighborhood have a whole lot to clean up," he told me. "Things shattered everywhere. We lost a lot of personal things, but the family and house are safe and we’re thanking our lucky stars for that." Thing weren't all bad. Local kids—off from school today—have turned the split concrete outside of Lewis's house into a bike jump.

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