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Earthquake Delivers Unexpected Blow to California Wineries

By Kevin Byrne, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
August 29, 2014; 1:58 AM ET

Already in the midst of a historic drought, the heart of California's wine country was dealt a significant blow an as a result of Sunday's 6.0-magnitude earthquake that rattled the San Francisco Bay area.

The earthquake struck around 3:20 a.m. PDT on Sunday, injuring more than 200 and leaving widespread damage, causing California Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency. The Los Angeles Times reports that the cost of the damage could reach $1 billion.

Many vineyards throughout the Napa Valley have been cleaning up and combing through their inventory to determine their how much of their product they lost. Some wineries suffered worse damage than others.

This all comes at a time when wineries are beginning to harvest the 2014 crop.

Dahl Vineyards, a self-described small, mom and pop-style winery, lost one 60-gallon barrel of an aging pinot noir and 37 cases of wine which, resulted in a $20,000 loss, said Robert Dahl, CEO of Dahl Vineyards in Yountville, California.

In the short term, it will hurt their business, Dahl said because of the cost and the time they will spend cleaning up. However, their status remains fine for the long term.

"At the end of the day, it actually might have been a better lesson, because now we're going to install some more safety devices to prevent barrels from ever tipping over again," he said.

Cellar worker Daniel Nelson looks over toppled barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon following an earthquake at the B.R. Cohn Winery barrel storage facility Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, in Napa, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

The damage was not too significant at Saintsbury Winery, which is located just 2 miles from the epicenter.

They lost some "irreplaceable wines" from their wine library, and some of their barrels were damaged and have already been sent for repair said Saintsbury co-owner David Graves.

"We're pretty much back up to where we were on Friday before all this happened," Graves said. "Just by the nature of when this happened, we we're able to escape, not quite unscathed, but almost unscathed."

Both Dahl and Graves said they were fortunate the quake happened overnight and not during the day because people who were working would have been injured.

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Others suffered a more substantial loss.

B.R. Cohn Winery in Glen Ellen, California, lost more than 50 percent of its wine, winemaker Tom Montgomery, told the Associated Press.

"It's devastating. I've never seen anything like this," he told the AP. "It's not just good wine we lost, it's our best wine," he said.

While the drought shows no signs of letting up, it's not a current detriment to wineries because rain can actually have a negative effect on grapes at this time of the year.

Rain and the associated humidity favors the growth of mold on the grape vines and the clusters themselves, Graves said. Often a drought helps the wine quality, by reining in the grape vine's growth cycle.

"One of the virtues of living in a Mediterranean climate is that we get to decide when the plants get a drink of water, not a weather system," Graves said.

"Rain is the enemy to our fruit right now," Dahl said. "We want to keep our fruit protected from any kind of moisture."

As soon as the harvest is over, as much rain as possible will be welcome from November through early February.

However, Dahl said they are worried about how much rain they will receive after the harvest season ends.

"We're nervous for this fall, when we really need that rain to come in," Dahl said.

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