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Napa wineries can learn lessons from Chile following earthquake

Published:  29 August, 2014

Napa wineries should take stock of damage following last week's 6.1 earthquake and consider upgrading facilities, as Chilean winemakers did following its 2010 tremblor.

Christian Wylie, export director for Chile's Santa Carolina winery, whose business suffered major damage in the 2010 earthquake, including the destruction of 3 million bottles of wine, shared some advice on changes made to the firm's facilities following the natural disaster.

"They really need to be very careful how they build wineries and tanks," said Wylie after some Napa wineries sustained significant damage following the quake.

Chile's 2010 8.8 earthquake led Santa Rita to:

  • consider using concrete tanks over stainless steel as they're more robust;
  • not to stack barrels as high in future - barrels stacked seven high could represent a "big problem" in the event of an earthquake;
  • stack finished pallets very close together so there's no room for oscillation -  in one of its warehouses they fell over "like dominoes" in 2010;
  • take additional safety measures for employees - have drills and 'duck and cover' signs

He described the California quake as a "lucky wake-up call" for Napa. "The 'big one' has been coming for 15 years - it could be coming soon."

Santa Carolina is only now reopening its visitor centre at its Santiago winery to tourists following the 2010 earthquake.

He said Chile suffered a 6.4 earthquake on Saturday, which felt stronger given its proximity to the surface. But he said that "if it's not above 7.2 to 7.5 we're quite relaxed about it".

Stephen Rannekleiv, Rabobank International's executive director for its Food Service and Agribusiness division, said that while Napa winery damage was "spotty", the quake offered a "moment to step back and assess their readiness for this sort of event". He said while the impact of Chile's 8.8 earthquake was "devastating" the industry there had learned from it. "Chile also had an earthquake over the weekend of a similar magnitude to Napa which caused virtually no damage."

"There were lessons for Chile with regards to back-up electricity - they were at a certain point in production cycle where irrigation was key - how high to stack barrels and how tanks should best be anchored," Wylie said, adding that these could prove useful for Californian producers.

James Caudill, director of public relations and hospitality at the Hess Collection estate, told it had faced significant damage. But he added: "We're still finding things each day, as is typical throughout the region, so there's both good news and bad, but the bottom line remains it could have been a lot worse, and it's just another thing to deal with - farmers are tough folks."

Has your wine business been affected by the Napa earthquake? Comment below or tweet us via @harperswine.