The Napa Earthquake: Showing the Spirit of Cooperation

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You’ve seen the photos: barrels toppled into chaotic heaps and rivers of red wine running though floors strewn with the glass shards of broken bottles. As Napa struggles to recover from Sunday morning’s 6.0 earthquake, the valley’s well-known spirit of cooperation amongst its wineries is once again shining.

We were one of the lucky ones: our winery was unscathed and the only sign of the earthquake was a slight shift in the barrels stacked six high floor-to-ceiling. Our wine inventory, which sits in a warehouse just a quarter mile from the epicenter, remains fine. You can bet we’re counting our lucky stars.

About 80% of the wineries in Napa fared well through the earthquake with little or no damage. But for the ones that did suffer damage, the timing was about as bad as it gets. With harvest having arrived about two weeks earlier than normal, and what looks like an exceptional-quality vintage in store, wineries across the valley were in full-action mode when the earthquake hit. Newly harvested juice is undergoing fermentation, a process that needs to be watched and controlled carefully for the best outcome. And new loads of beautiful quality grapes are coming in daily, whether or not wineries have recovered enough to resume harvest.

But this is where the Napa wine industry shines: there is a long-held spirit of professional cooperation here, which means that this week all hands are on deck helping our fellow vintners restore power, clean up barrel rooms and fix equipment so that harvest can continue. No one wants to see a fellow vintner have to miss out on an excellent harvest, one that last week we were all so excited about.

Most vintners attribute the spirit of professional cooperation in the Napa wine industry to Robert Mondavi. He always had a generous “we’re all in this together” approach to building the valley’s reputation as one of the world’s premier wine regions, recognizing that he couldn’t successfully build his own winery’s reputation without first promoting the region as a whole. There are well-known stories amongst the older generation of vintners of Bob Mondavi pitching in to help fellow vintners down on their luck, lending his equipment or doing whatever he could to help rescue a neighbor. Something tells me that at a time like this, he and his legendary generosity would really shine.

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