Friday, October 14, 2005

Significant Losses in Wine Warehouse Fire

Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle began reporting on Wednesday's fire at the Wines Central warehouse in Vallejo, California. The paper reported it as "whole vintages lost." As winemakers, insurers, and investigators dig through what's left, it now seems the damage and loss is much worse than originally reported. Not only are whole vintages gone but the the inventories of some small winemakers may be completely lost. The paper has more today.

Wines Central, a large concrete and steel warehouse at the former Mare Island naval facility was once a storage warehouse for submarines. With three-foot concrete walls, it was considered secure and controlled and in recent years, had become a mega-warehouse for many small Northern California wine makers. For many, it housed their entire vintages. For others, their entire histories. Almost every winery in Napa stored something there from a pallet (56 cases) to entire supplies. Some companies uses the warehouse for non-wine products -- you probably won't find much Niebaum-Coppola pasta sauce on the market for a while -- it was in the warehouse. Other occupants sold secure storage space to private collectors.

Some of the most devastated, though, will be the small winemakers who may have lost an entire vintages or an the entire year's production. Some lost everything -- while larger winemakers may have lost as much as 25-50% of their yearly production. Still other winemakers lost no current inventory but are mourning the loss of their historical vintages. Historical vintages are important and most vintners store wines from previous years to keep tabs on how their grapes and wine techniques age. History can be an important part of how wine is made -- and much of this history for many wineries in Napa is now lost.

In the overall scheme of the wine business, the fire isn't expected to have a big impact. It wasn't enough wine to make a dent in prices or the economy. However, for many small houses it's just another tough break in a very tough business. Authorities are investigating whether the fire was arson.

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