Saturday, August 30, 2014


St. Helena, CA

Unless you've had your head somewhere unmentionable, you probably know we had a significant earthquake in Napa Valley last weekend. At 3:20 a.m. on August 24, a strong 6.0 quake rolled through, the California equivalent of hazing for new residents. Welcome to our state, where living on land sometimes simulates living on a boat.

We were fine here in St. Helena, just over 20 miles from the epicenter, but it was a BIG one. Our little cottage was creaking and the (four) dishes in the cabinets were rattling. We had no doubt about what was happening.

Napa, the town, only a few miles from the epicenter in American Canyon, took the worst hit, but perhaps the greatest casualty was truth in the media. As they tried to make sense (and the most) out of the shakeup, there were some ugly missteps.

One local TV station used a photo of grapes on the ground, reporting that the earthquake was big enough to "shake the grapes right off the vine." The photo showed bunches that had been pruned -- intentionally, something anyone in Napa could have told them, had they asked. Okay, breaking coverage on Live TV, but....

... et tu, Washington Post? An early article from claimed the quake, "couldn't have come at a worse time," which was their attempt tie the quake to California's drought. However, had they asked, they would have learned that the quake hit at the best possible time (if there is one?): Most fermenting tanks were empty and waiting for imminent harvest. And most significantly, the timing at 3:20 a.m. meant that wineries were empty. Had the quake occurred during the day or even a few days later during harvest, the story would have been quite different.

Certainly there was significant damage, and some wineries had devastating losses, but only one week later, Napa Valley Vintners reports on Twitter that 95% of wineries are back in business. Something you would not know if you read Outside magazine, the worst offender and the publication that prompted me to write this post. Last night on Twitter:

I added the NOT TRUE, lest I perpetuate a falsehood.

"With Napa out of commission"?!?!? It's been a week with ample opportunity to vet the impact of the earthquake on the Napa wine industry. This was Outside's second volley on Twitter promoting this lame article, an incredibly lazy interview of the Whole Foods global wine buyer, the sole source, who, contrary to the inflammatory Tweets and headline, says the earthquake will have no effect on supply. On the first Twitter post, I was the only one who took Outside to task, but fortunately on the one above, others started chiming in. Disappointing, lax "reporting" from Outside, a magazine that I've previously respected.

Of course, there was some non-shaky reporting going on, among the best was AFPs Glenn Chapman, who grasped the nuances of how things shook out, so to speak, even in a breaking story. Ironically, he also quoted Chip, my Chip, who works at Silver Oak: "I think our wine tastes better after being shaken, not stirred." Chip always knows the right thing to say.

Here's a roundup of local paper front pages from wash post, a visual that underscores the significance of this story in the local market.

*As a bizarre footnote to this earthquake incident, we were in one other earthquake, three years ago by one day. That whole incident was much more alarming and has a much stranger (and longer) story.

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