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Winemakers clean up after California quake


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Winemakers in California’s storied Napa Valley woke up to thousands of broken bottles and barrels as a result of the earthquake.

The earthquake couldn’t have come at a worse time for the region, which has just started harvesting the 2014 crop.

“It’s devastating. I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Tom Montgomery, a winemaker for B.R. Cohn Winery in Glen Ellen, California.

The epicentre of the 6.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Northern California, the strongest in the area in 25 years, was just six 10 kilometres southwest of Napa, California, the centre of California’s winemaking region.

B.R. Cohn lost “as much as 50 per cent” of its wine, Montgomery said. The winery focuses on high-end, single estate wines that retail between $US40 ($A43.30) and $US100 ($A108.20) a bottle.

“It’s not just good wine we lost, it’s our best wine,” he said.

At Dahl Vineyards in Yountville, California, a rack full of wine barrels was teetering and in danger of coming down.

One barrel containing $US16,000 worth of pinot noir fell and was lost as a result of the quake.

The owners were trying to save the rest, removing the barrels with a forklift.

Elsewhere in the region, red wine stains were visible outside the doors of a warehouse – indicating there was damage inside.

Other wineries reported more modest damage.

In Oakville, Silver Oak Winery lost “a couple hundred bottles” of wine, said Ian Leggat, a spokesman for Silver Oak, as well as three barrels full of wine.

Most of the product damaged at Silver Oak was single-vineyard wines the winery uses for testing. None of the wines sold to consumers were damaged in the quake, Leggat said.

Even the wine in barrels that wasn’t damaged by the quake may have problems, however, because wines aging in barrels are supposed to be kept as still as possible, Montgomery said.

Napa is California’s best-known winemaking region. While it produces only four per cent of California’s total wine crop, Napa’s wines are considered among the best in the world and sell for a premium price.

The Napa Valley does $US50 billion in economic activity a year, or roughly a quarter of wine industry for the entire US, according to Napa Valley Vinters.

The earthquake adds to what has already been a difficult year for California winemakers.

California is in the middle of its worst drought in decades, and the earthquake comes just as winemakers in the region are getting ready to harvest the 2014 crop.

Winemakers were reporting modest damage to equipment, which could affect harvesting.

California’s governor declared a state of emergency in the wake of the 3:20am quake, which ignited fires, burst water mains, caused gas leaks and even cracked roads.

The US Geological Service said the tremor was the most powerful to hit the San Francisco Bay area since the 1989 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake.

Many Napa residents and the surrounding area were roused from sleep when the ground started shaking, sparking panic.

South Australian tourism minister Leon Bignell was among them, telling ABC radio this morning that the quake woke him in the middle of the night. He said he was travelling alone in California on government business.

Napa city officials said three people suffered serious injuries, including a child who had to be airlifted to a hospital for neurological care.

The Queen of the Valley Medical Centre meanwhile treated 120 patients for minor injuries such as cuts and bruises.

Napa officials scrambled to flag 16 buildings, including a senior centre, as too damaged for occupancy, as portions of the city’s downtown were cordoned off with yellow tape.

Fire destroyed four mobile homes and damaged two others at a trailer park in the area, while crews extinguished blazes in two other residential neighbourhoods.

As inspectors hustled from building to building to check safety and risk of further collapse, Napa city officials said they had received more than 100 phone calls from people reporting gas leaks.

However, city public works director Jack LaRochelle said “the big thing we’re looking at from a public-works and infrastructure standpoint is the water-main system”.

The Napa city official said 60 water-main breaks occurred following the quake, which struck near American Canyon some 64km northeast of San Francisco, according to USGS.

LaRochelle said that 20 of the breaks had been isolated and shut off and that five teams were working in 12-hour shifts to restore water to areas where it didn’t exist or had minimal pressure.

He added that Napa’s roads were in good shape with only a handful of “buckling streets, but nothing that’s really serious enough to cause us to close a road. Our bridges are in pretty good shape”.

Power remained knocked out to around 20,000 customers in the area, home to California’s most celebrated wine-producing regions, according to the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Brown said 69,000 people lost power in all.

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