NAPA — The first pinot noir grapes of the season came in to Trefethen Family Vineyards as usual, glistening purple mounds stacked in white bins.
Well, almost as usual. This year, harvest workers donned safety vests and hard hats in deference to their proximity to a circa 1886 building left sagging at the knees by the magnitude-6.0 earthquake that hit Aug. 24. But with the building propped up, the harvest went on, here and elsewhere in the Napa Valley.
No one is minimizing the quake — dozens of people were injured, historic buildings were damaged, rivers of wine were lost, and early estimates put the loss at $360 million — but the impact on the harvest itself, and therefore the wine made from it, is expected to be relatively small.
Part of that is timing. With harvest about to start, many wineries already had bottled their 2012 and 2013 wines, which meant they were securely boxed and shrink-wrapped.
Some wineries did lose significant amounts of wine, but consumers aren’t expected to notice an overall drop in supply since this year’s harvest follows two successive big crops and comes at the end of what has been a favorable growing season despite the state’s deepening drought.
Still, looking at wineries individually, there was some dramatic damage.
At The Hess Collection, a winery renowned for its art collection as well as its wines, a brown sandstone path turned purple after gallons of 2013 cabernet sauvignon gushed out of two ruptured 10,000-gallon tanks. And a crack in the wall of an old stone building meant guest operations had to be moved to other parts of the winery grounds, but none of that stopped harvest.
“It is, in fact, wonderful to be distracted from the unexpected craziness of the earthquake to the expected and very much planned for craziness of harvest,” said Hess spokesman Jim Caudill.
Some wineries with damaged equipment were scrambling to find replacements via an online help forum hosted by the Napa Valley Vintners, a 500-member trade association. The association donated $10 million to create a disaster relief fund for residents and businesses.
Harvest is peak tourist season and most hotels and restaurants were open and events going on as scheduled, including the 20th annual Music Festival for Brain Health hosted by Staglin Family Vineyard Sept. 13-14 which features singer Jewel and is expected to draw more than 1,000.
“We felt it in Rutherford for sure, but we were relatively lucky with only some minor equipment issues and a few broken bottles,” said Shari Staglin. Now back to normal, they “really never considered postponing or canceling. Our festival is one of the most significant gatherings of scientists and researchers in the world, plus it’s a lot of fun, which is something we need right now.”
Of course, some damage can’t be fixed, like the loss of “library wines,” bottles from past vintages.
At the Saintsbury winery on the southern end of the Napa Valley, more than 400 library wines shattered, bad news for the winery and for those who enjoy its prized pinot noirs and chardonnays. Barrels fell, most of them empty, and the water tank ruptured, but harvest was delayed only a few days.
“By dint of a lot of hard work and everybody pitching in, we’re ready to have all the happy excitement that the first grapes bring to anybody,” said David W. Graves, Saintsbury co-founder.