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California’s Multi-Billion Dollar Wine Industry Assesses Losses After 6.0 Earthquake

25 Aug 2014, 4:00 pm

Wineries in the idyllic Sonoma Valley have been coping with a record-setting drought for nearly a year. The lack of rain, searing hot temperatures and lowering water tables have put immense pressure on vintners’ bottom line. And early Sunday morning, California’s wine industry took another huge blow, this time the destruction came from below ground. A 6.0 earthquake, centered about five miles south-southwest of Napa, Calif. gave area residents an abrupt 3:20 a.m. wake-up call as long, rolling seismic waves undulated under their homes and businesses.

shake map

The shallow quake, located about six miles below the surface, is the strongest to strike the Bay Area in nearly 25 years. It’s a far cry from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which killed 63 people, injured more than 3,700 and left thousands of buildings uninhabitable. By contrast, Saturday’s quake had caused about 200 injuries — including a child last listed in critical condition at a San Francisco hospital — and left dozens of buildings unsafe for habitation. In the immediate aftermath of the temblor, as many as 70,000 PG&E customers lost power.

As of Monday morning, only 150 customers had yet to be restored. Dozens of water mains were ruptured as well, causing headaches for first responders trying to fight structure fires caused by the earthquake. As of early Monday, only eight water mains had been repaired.

Broken Bottles and Shattered Expectations

According to discovercaliforniawines.com, the California wine industry has a $61.5 billion annual economic impact in the state, employing nearly 330,000 people and generating a total of $14.7 billion in state and federal tax revenue.

But the adverse impact of the earthquake, coupled with the on-going historic drought, is likely to hamper the industry for sometime to come.

Images from Napa, Sonoma and the surrounding areas show thousands of smashed wine bottles and toppled aging barrels, likely ruining millions of dollars in vineyards’ vintages. David Oppenheimer, a seismologist with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) told the Wall Street Journal that economic losses in the region could easily top $100 million. Some estimates have the damage near $1 billion.

Other local businesses, like wine bars and restaurants, are reporting big losses as well. Reuters talked to Tyler Paradise, the genenral manager of the Cult 21 wine bar in Napa, and he says at least $50,000 dollars worth of his inventory is ruined. If there is the smallest of silver linings for beleaguered wine makers, it’s this: This year’s harvest had only just begun. And even though crop yields are expected to be a fraction of normal — some wineries are forecasting only 20% of normal — had this year’s vintages been lost, it could have been catastrophic for winemakers. But, for now, it appears the 2014 harvest and crush are safe.

The Quake’s Cause

The San Andreas Fault is a well-known boundary of the North American and Pacific tectonic plates. It’s caused numerous high-profile and exceedingly damaging earthquakes, like the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and the 1994 Northridge earthquake. But, it wasn’t directly involved in Sunday’s shaking of the Bay Area. The likely culprit, according to SF Gate, was “…the Browns Valley section of the West Napa Fault, about 3 miles northwest of American Canyon.” Some questions remain if that’s the exact location of the tremblor, since there a number of other, smaller faults that run close to the West Napa Fault. That said, scientists say aftershocks and addition analysis will help to better pinpoint the location of the original event.

USGS seismologist David Oppenheimer told WeatherNation that a team of scientists are in the field looking at physical evidence in an attempt to better locate the offending fault. That said, current evidence suggest the quake originated from the West Napa Fault. The Napa West Fault — much like it’s cousin, the well-known San Andreas — is a “slip-strike fault.” That’s where two land masses laterally grind against one another in opposite directions. That opposite movement causes energy to build in the earth and at some point the fault ruptures, releasing that stored energy in the form of seismic waves. Since most of the faults in northern California are shallow, the released seismic waves are much more destructive than deep-fault earthquakes of the same magnitude. In the wake of the main tremor, dozens of aftershocks rattled nervous residents and the USGS is warning people that aftershocks will be a frequent occurrence in the weeks to come.

Aftermath and Clean Up

Robert Frias_Napa The Napa earthquake caused buckled streets, partially collapsed historic buildings and several structure fires due to gas leaks. CNN reports Napa City Manager Mike Parness says his municipal resources are tapped out, “‘We have exhausted our local resources,’ he said. ‘We need more help from the outside.'” The amount of destruction lead California Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in area, allocating state resources to respond to an event that’s overwhelmed local governments, like Napa. President Barack Obama has been getting briefings on the aftermath of the earthquake, but the area has not been designated a federal disaster area as of publication.

KRON reports the City of Napa has designated Napa High School, Harvest Middle School, Browns Valley, El Centro, Alta Heights, Northwood abd West Park Elementary Schools as debris drop off locations. Additional locations are to be opened later Monday. For additional information call 707-258-7817 Meteorologist Alan Raymond (Meteorologist Thomas Geboy contributed to this report.)

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