Like most winemakers in the southern parts of Napa and Sonoma counties, we’re still trying to get a handle on the damage done by yesterday’s 6.0 magnitude quake. In fact, especially for wineries, it may be to the end of this week before the damage to wine stocks can be assessed. That’s because small wineries often have their wine resting in large shared storage facilities where barrels are stacked six high or higher. At this point, employees are still trying to get into often blocked facilities to see which barrels fell and split and assess which winery customer lost what and how much. We are among that number and we still haven’t heard if our 2013 Cabernet and our Rhone style blends, which were resting in oak at a facility on the outskirts of Sonoma, survived the big shake.
To date, Sonoma’s Sebastiani Vineyard has reported the single largest loss for an individual winery. They had wine of all varietals and blends resting in steel tanks, nineteen of which toppled or ruptured. Here’s the result:
Now to give you an idea about typical wine storage, here’s how they do it at the storage caves at Benziger Family Winery in Glen Ellen.
On first blush, it might be hard to muster sympathy for Napa Valley which many think of as a playground for the rich and famous in their faux chateaux. Yes, there are those, but remember that Napa and Sonoma counties are overwhelmingly rural and agricultural. The vast majority of people here are involved in those industries. That includes pickers, winery employees, tasting room personnel, landscapers, truck drivers and all the small, often family-owned businesses that make their living from visitors to Wine Country. These are people who can’t afford a bad tourist season or a disruption of income. It remains to be seen what the tourist fallout will be as we head into harvest season — traditionally our biggest and most lucrative tourist season.
Faithful readers and Facebook followers know by now that I’m no fan of #hashtag activism. Especially when it involves mindless wasting of resources as precious as water — and perhaps just as bad — becomes an exercise in exhibitionism that gets disconnected from the very good cause it was designed to support. But this might be a case where I can advocate such methods, and a case where it will solve several issues beyond just immediate earthquake relief. I don’t know much about fine wine — I’m the farmer in this equation. But I do know the importance of supporting American agriculture, especially multi-generational family farms. So it’s always pained me to see how many people will grab for two bottles of cheap-ass Australian corporate produced wines, instead of splurging on one bottle of hand-crafted Sonoma or Napa wine from a small family winery.
So here’s the deal with the challenge:
1. Purposely seek out small production Napa and Sonoma wines. Here’s where your small independent wine merchant can really be of help. And when you buy from him or her, you support another small business.
But again, many small wineries have their wine stored elsewhere, especially in some of the large storage facilities in Napa and American Canyon. So wine from anywhere in Napa and Sonoma — again preferably from a small family producer — is going to help.
2. Now video yourself taking a sip of your just purchased Napa or Sonoma wine. Make sure your video features a long lingering look at the label of the wine you are tasting. Mention any fun facts about the wine — where it comes from, whether you’ve visited the winery, where you found this particular bottle (especially if it’s from your friendly independent wine merchant!)
3. Tell us a little about what you love about this wine. Post your video to Facebook, Instagram or the social media of your choice. Remember, we are trying to highlight small producers who don’t always have much money for promotion and advertising. So congratulations, you have now become a de facto PR and Advertising executive for these dedicated winemakers!
4. Now think about all the vineyard crews, grape growers, winery employees, wine store owners, small business people and all the others you are helping with this one simple act.
5. Don’t forget to enjoy the full sensory experience that only a good Napa or Sonoma wine can give you. Now keep doing this! Do it with friends. Do it every week. This is drinking locally, even if you live in Frankfort Kentucky. Because the friendly folks in Napa and Sonoma are a lot more local than Australia, South Africa and Chile.
I have no idea what to call this challenge. I know that there are certain hashtags we should NOT use because they have been co-opted by some very bad people I will not name because I don’t want to make this post searchable by that tag. But be warned of them here. I would suggest #drinkforNapa, although that doesn’t remind people that Sonoma County was also affected. So #drinkOuttheQuake or #WineWashTheQuake. I don’t know. I’ll let someone else come up with that one.
In the meantime, I’ll keep you posted on which wineries were hit the worst. I’m headed up to Sonoma for more damage assessment, but we got off lightly with easily-repaired pipe damage to the water treatment unit that regulates our irrigation system. Again, I have no idea how our stored wine fared. I’ll either be pleasantly surprised or the 2013 vintage took a great loss.
In the meantime, drink up. And start the education and excitement rolling about Napa and Sonoma County wines.
*Just in case you don’t know this wine term, appellation is a legally defined and protected geographical indication used to identify where the grapes for a specific wine were grown. It’s always more fun to buy wine by appellation.