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Will wine lovers have to pay more after Napa Valley quake?

Kevin Chupka
Executive Producer/Writer

Last weekend’s earthquake in northern California may have done over $1 billion in damage. Given the location a fair amount of that may impact the famous wineries that dot the region. Wine is a $13 billion industry in the Napa Valley and anything that affects its bottom line could end up hitting wine lovers across the country.

“Early indications are that the wine that is in bottle right now which is the 2012 and 2013 vintages have been pretty well protected so that we won’t have any significant losses there,” says Chris Adams, CEO of Forbes "No. 1 Wine Shop in America," Sherry Lehmann in New York. Still, Adams cautions that we’re only 48 hours removed from the quake and a lot of the damage has yet to be fully assessed.

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Adams, who has spoken to several of his contacts out west since the earthquake, notes that those 2012 and 2013 vintages have been in bottles and are usually stored in wrapped pallets. The same cannot be said for what are called library wines. These are typically smaller amounts of wine saved by the winery from each years releases and usually stored in loose bottles. Fine wine stores like Sherry Lehmann often purchase these wines as they age and grow in value. The quake could possibly have claimed some of these.

Then there are the grapes still on the vine, ready to become the 2014 vintage. With harvest season approaching Adams says the grapes themselves are fine but damage to equipment could potentially “limit the harvest or hinder some harvests in some areas of Napa. If that’s the case then for 2014 there could be some level of impact for the consumer.” Again, it’s early and the precise impact will be made known in the coming days and weeks.

Another potential peril for the 2014 vintage are empty bottle and barrels. They tend not to fare as well as heavier, full bottles and barrels and many may have broken, leaving nowhere to put the wine that will be made this fall.

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If wineries are forced to buy new bottles and barrels it is conceivable that such a cost could be passed down to consumers at some point.

One silver lining for the oenophiles out there. Adams says that the 2012 and 2013 vintages that seemingly made it through the disaster are abundant and high in quality so look for some good wines out of Napa in the coming months despite all the rebuilding that will undoubtedly be going on there.

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