Charity events nationwide are lubricated with the generosity of vintners and winemakers. Whether we’re talking about a single bottle or a wine country experience, wineries often provide the foundation upon which successful fundraising events are built. So it is natural to wonder what is going to happen to your fundraising event in the wake of the 6.0 earthquake that struck Napa and Sonoma counties on Sunday, August 24th.
We should start by doing an honest assessment of the damage to the Napa Valley. The vast majority of Napa came out relatively unscathed. Most wineries had little to no damage, including wineries whose storage facilities were at the epicenter of the quake.
“We lost a total of about six bottles,” said Stuart Bryan of Pride Mountain Vineyards, even though their storage facility is less than a quarter mile from the epicenter. “We palletize all of our boxes of wine, and then shrink-wrap each pallet. Everything was fine.
“But if the building had collapsed,” continued Stuart, “we’d have lost everything.”
A small minority of wineries got hit exceptionally hard, and they have been getting the most news coverage. Trefethen Family Vineyards, for example, has been one of the unfortunate poster children for damage done by this quake. Their historic Eshcol Winery building, built in 1886, buckled during the quake and its fate is being decided by structural engineers.
Trefethen is visible from highway 29, and the sight of their three-story winery buckled and leaning is a moving one. But if there is good news it is the fact that Trefethen was between bottling their last vintage and harvesting this one: their winery was essentially empty. They may be looking at a loss of their building, but their wine remained intact.
The same cannot be said for The Hess Collection. Situated on Mount Veeder, Hess sustained some of the most graphic, and costly damage in the quake. “Mount Veeder is the mountain closest to the epicenter,” says Samuel J. Peters, the Executive Director of the Mount Veeder Appellation Council, “but that’s not the reason it took such a hit. All of the other mountains in Napa have volcanic soil, and their terrain is much firmer. Mount Veeder was seafloor, and didn’t fare well.”
Hess, specifically, lost over $4 million in wine when their pressure-sealed, full-of-wine storage tanks were crushed like so many empty aluminum cans sending a flood of wine out onto their wine tasting patio. A few rows of their barrels also collapsed, making for stunning photos and video – and sending the erroneous message that Napa had been shut down.
The majority of Napa is open for business. As of this writing there are 58 red-tagged businesses. Hess isn’t one of them – in fact, Hess has been actively campaigning to get people to come to Napa, and making the most of the situation with humor and aplomb. Their Labor Day Weekend Tasting Menu included a selection between the "Summer Shakes," "Triumphant Tremor" or the "Falling Rock Collection."
So how does this all impact you and your charity event?
I don’t know for sure, and it is going to be up to you to find out. You’re going to have to do some legwork, strengthening your vintner relationships, and checking in with your contacts to see where they are at.
If you have existing relationships with wine producers in Napa, or Sonoma for that matter, who donate to your event you need to reach out to them to see how they fared. Do a quick search online to discover what you can first, in case they are one of the wineries that took a major hit. Odds are they came through mostly unscathed. Either way, they will appreciate you reaching out.
Calibrate your Own Expectations
If a winery that you depend on did take a significant hit in the quake, offer them a year off from participating in your event. If they need a break, they will appreciate it – and if they don’t need a break, they will appreciate the thought.
Make No Assumptions
Even if one of your vintner partners did take a significant hit, reach out to them and find out how best you can work together on your upcoming event. They may need the time off, but they may need the marketing your event provides even more. Have conversations with people: it is the best way to build and strengthen relationships.
Vintners and winemakers are, as a whole, one of the most generous groups of business people in the United States. They consistently use their powers for the greater good, contributing to fundraising events all over the nation. The damage caused by this one earthquake isn’t going to change that commitment overnight. In fact, it will probably only make it stronger.