My recent trip to the Napa Valley was eye-opening—and in ways I hadn’t even anticipated. I jumped, of course, at an invitation from the Napa Valley Vintners Association to witness the 2014 harvest, walk the vines with winemakers and learn about NapaGreen.org’s sustainability initiatives. It was a magnificent visit, and one that deepened my appreciation for this compact wine region so revered for its diversity of geology, topography, microclimates and winemaking styles.
But with my trip falling exactly one month after a 6.0 earthquake rocked South Napa, I was expecting the worst: widespread property damage, disarray and, at the very least, disruption of the dependable system that keeps Las Vegas wine cellars stocked with some of the world’s most sought-after wines. Instead, I found a city shaken, no doubt, but not so much so that it had forgotten about its collective purpose at this time of year.
Harvest was well under way when I arrived late at night, zipping past house-sized over-row tractors in vineyards lit up like ballparks. Thankfully, on August 24, most of the Valley was still in bed at 3:20 a.m., and some wineries passed the night with little more than dust or a few bottles disturbed. Others—especially in Napa, Mount Veeder, Yountville, and Oak Knoll—were not so lucky. You’ve probably seen the photos of barrels and racks toppled like Jenga piles. The latest estimates put the total loss at more than $80 million. But where there’s wine, there’s hope.
At a Grgich Hills Estate dinner hosted by multiple generations of family-owned wineries, Janet Trefethen showed me photos of Trefethen’s 19th-century visitors center, now leaning precariously under the weight of barrels stored on the second floor. Wooden buttresses keep the whole thing from collapsing. Those barrel Jenga pics? Some were hers. Still, Janet and her daughter, Hailey, remained focused on harvest, which they completed on October 14.
Another winery hit hard but hitting back is Page Wine Cellars. When I met Bryan Page in person, the normally ebullient garagiste winemaker was exhausted yet wired. Despite suffering a truly “crippling” loss, Page and his brother, Chris, took what was left of their ’12 cabernet franc and crafted “Furioso 6.1” (3 for $136), guaranteed to “rock your taste buds, but in a positive way!”
So do book that fall or winter trip to Napa. Cozy up to a cab at Hall, Charles Krug, St. Supéry or Pine Ridge. Taste the future straight from the barrel at Grgich Hills. Or check out the newest kid on the block, Cairdean Estate. Because Napa’s all right. She dispatched with the French in the 1976 Judgment of Paris, when Chateau Montelena and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars put the Valley on the world wine map. She can certainly handle this bump in the night.