Sunday, August 24th, 2014 will go down in infamy in the history of the Napa Valley.
The magnitude 6.0 earthquake that rocked the area early that morning left an indelible mark on the fabric of downtown in the form of crumbling brick facades, broken wine bottles and toppled stacks of barrels.
The blue-collar downtown area that’s home to the multitudes that work in customer service was one of the hardest hit. Wineries in the Oak Knoll area, close to town also reported serious damage, as did the emerging downtown nexus of high-caliber eateries. A state of emergency was declared. Several buildings downtown were red tagged as uninhabitable, forcing the businesses within to go on hiatus.
Napa historically is incredibly resilient, bouncing right back after a lengthy prohibition era, numerous fires, shrinking water levels, and an occasionally soft Napa Valley wine market. The resiliency of late comes in part from the community-centered growth around the farm to table movement and its affiliated surge in local production.
Vineyard land has increasingly been re-purposed for farming or cattle, its produce going directly to Napa’s restaurants and Farmer’s Markets, diversifying the areas offerings and spreading risk. Napa also seems keen to rekindle its deep agricultural roots, if only to meet the growing need for fresh farm to table fare.
The migrant work force that tends the thousands of vineyard acres and mans numerous restaurant kitchens were undoubtedly hit hardest economically by the earthquake. Their contribution and significance are duly recognized in Napa, though; as the community is aware they are vital to its success.
To that end, The Napa Valley Vintners, among others, created the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund, with the Vintner’s generously donating $10 million to assist in the needs of the community and to ease the suffering of those hardest hit.
Napa’s bucolic charm is undeniable. It’s a part of the world whose natural beauty alone make it worthy of a visit, but it’s the twin industries of Wine and Food that have cemented Napa’s place as a world-class destination in the twenty-first century.
The people that comprise this work force are the heart and soul of Napa. The level of service in Napa has always set it apart from other destinations and it’s the sheer determination of this workforce which went into action immediately in the wake of the quake to right the ship.
As they do any other day, they quietly and efficiently got down to the business of
cleaning-up the mess and reaching out to those fellow workers in need. While Napa may be one of the largest tourist draws in the world, at heart it’s just like any other small town that operates on trust, neighborliness, and community pride.
Still, the good intentions were only the beginning of the process. After the clean-up, there was the problem of assessing where to go from there. Silicon Valley Bank was recently commissioned by Napa County and the Napa Valley Vintner’s to assess the damage of the quake. Their conservative estimate was $80 million for the town of Napa, $400 million countywide.
Their assessment included damage to winery buildings and infrastructure such as waste water ponds and private bridges, wine making equipment, cleanup and removal costs, vineyard irrigation, bottled inventory in current release, bottling supplies, finished inventory ready for bottling, bulk wine, barrels, lost revenue from damaged tasting rooms, losses from business interruption, and loss of wine held in wine libraries.
The funds will help get Napa back on its feet and, indeed it already is business as usual in Napa. There may be a few cosmetic reminders, and of course the memories of those that lived through the quake will always be there, but for the most part Napa’s bedrock of community and partnership remains undeterred.
Every business and region goes through a periodic shakedown, or rough patch, it’s how they react to it that dictates what the place is made of and how they’ll come through it. In Napa, you’ll find the response to the challenge has been a reminder to the world that a first-class destination is built from the ground up, ready for any circumstance, and built to last. Come and see for yourself.
Joseph Mora C.W.P.