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Napa's Restaurant and Wine Industry Begins to Rebuild After Earthquake

Kieu Hoang Winery, the morning after the quake.
Kieu Hoang Winery, the morning after the quake.
Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty

At 3 a.m. Sunday, August 24, most residents of the Napa Valley were awoken by a 6.1-magnitude earthquake, the largest the region has felt in nearly 25 years. According to the most recent Napa city data, the quake injured 120 people and caused an estimated $300 million in structural damage to homes and businesses throughout the city: As of last Friday, 116 buildings in Napa (from private residences to government buildings) have been marked "uninhabitable" by inspectors, with another 500 restricted to "limited access."

The Napa area is known for its restaurants and wineries, and unsurprisingly, the earthquake had an impact on the local hospitality industry: Many restaurateurs, winemakers, and industry employees are still assessing the damage done to their businesses and homes. Counting personal losses, early damage estimates put the grand total at $1 billion dollars for the residents and business owners of Napa. The overall financial impact directly attributed to lost wine, wages, and business at local restaurants and wineries is still uncertain.

A Look at the Damage

Despite these staggering numbers, it could've been much worse. On Saturday, August 23, more than 15,000 people flocked to downtown Napa for the annual Blues, Brews, and BBQ festival — thankfully, the earthquake hit when residents and tourists alike were in their homes and hotels instead of on the street.

And while some businesses estimated catastrophic losses in the morning of August 25, many have since scaled back their loss predictions. B.R. Cohn Winery told the AP on August 28 that it had lost "as much as 50 percent" of its wine, but a later announcement on its website reported "that the loss appears to be considerably less than originally thought." Dahl Vineyards saw one particularly pricey barrel of wine — containing $16,000 worth of Pinot Noir — crash to the floor, but reported on Facebook they sustained no other damage aside from shattered 37 wine bottles and broken glasses. Throughout wine country, many business swept up broken glass, mopped up spilled wine, and re-opened by midweek.

Damage at Bounty Hunter. [Photo: courtesy Will Wright]

Will Wright, the general manager of barbecue restaurant Bounty Hunter, finally got into bed around 1a.m. — after his 16-hour shift working Blues, Brews, and BBQ — and was jolted awake by the earthquake. Just 45 minutes later, he was downtown, assessing the damage to the restaurant. "Wine was everywhere," Wright told Eater the Thursday after the quake. "The bar was completely destroyed. All the whiskey, spirits, everything had come off the back bar. All of our fridges had swung open, everything had fallen out." In a bad stroke of luck, as the whiskey bottles fell, they "knocked two of my tap handles down and emptied out two kegs onto the floor of the bar," adding an additional 60 gallons of liquid to the mess. And there was "complete destruction" in the kitchen, Wright said, estimating "90 percent, 95 percent of our plates are gone."

A precariously hanging boulder above the doorway has hit Bounty Hunter with "yellow tag" status.

Five days after the earthquake, Bounty Hunter remained closed: It was one of several hundred structures that suffered "yellow tag" status, which for a business, allows only employees restricted access to the space. The Bounty Hunter building, which dates to 1888, prominently featured a limestone monument stone above the doorway, and post-earthquake, it was considered a safety hazard as it precariously hung about eight inches from the facade. "The masonry, all the support anchors, everything's broken on it," Wright said. "It's just wedged in there, sitting there. It's like having a boulder [hanging] over your front door." Wright had to work with contractors to remove to stone completely, after which the building would be deemed safe. The Bounty Hunter officially re-opened at 11a.m. Saturday, nearly one week after the earthquake.

Carpe Diem Wine Bar, in downtown Napa. [Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty]

Other businesses are less lucky, with "red tag" notices that force their closures indefinitely. By most media reports, the most-damaged structure in the city is the historic building that houses the Carpe Diem Wine Bar and restaurant: The earthquake completely collapsed part of its second floor, sending debris onto the sidewalk below. Further outside Napa, a historic building owned by Trefethen Family Vineyards suffered what owners described on the winery website as "major damage": Photos and aerial video reveal the tasting room is now leaning slightly to one side, and engineers are currently working to determine whether or not it can be restored. If not, it would mean the loss of a building on the National Register of Historic Places.

And some business owners have been shut out, even if their structures suffered zero damage. Just a couple blocks away from Bounty Hunter, the owners of Sushi Mambo announced on Facebook that "some major wall damage adjacent to the building next to us" has slapped their 17-year-old restaurant with red-tag status, closing it indefinitely. The Molinari Caffe suffered a similar fate: Despite its own building suffering no structural damage during the quake, an adjacent building's damage gave it red-tag status. Owner Rick Molinari wrote on Facebook that "I don't know how long I will be closed," and a series of updates through the weekend suggest that he's currently working with the city to secure an entryway for customers. The Molinari has been upgraded to yellow-tag status with hopes to open soon.

The business is already out $75,000 in lost revenue.

For these businesses owners, the total loss from the earthquake not only includes broken bottles, but the loss of revenue from remaining temporarily shuttered. "I haven't done the math yet," Wright laughed, referring to his inventory loss. "I don't really want to, to be honest... You figure $6, $7 a plate, that adds up pretty quick." He quickly calculated that in the restaurant's six-day closure, the business was out $75,000 in lost revenue.

A community comes together

In the days since the quake, many in the wine community have announced fundraisers: Wine app Delectable has pledged $1 from each bottle of Napa Valley wine purchased to relief efforts. The hashtag #DrinkNapa has sprouted up in a show of solidarity from Napa wine fans. And before the holiday weekend, Napa Valley Vintners, the local trade association, announced it would donate $10 million to start the Napa Community Disaster Relief Fund, promising to "quickly get resources into the hands of the local families and businesses most in need."

A red-tagged business in Napa cleans up. [Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty]

Wright says the sense of community was immediate. "At four in the morning, I was sweeping glass out of the streets, and everybody was just chipping in," Wright says. "Everybody, all the neighbors, got out brooms, got out everything they could to get glass off the street, get it off the sidewalk, make it safe. It was pretty impressive." As the Cadet Wine & Beer Bar started its clean-up on Monday, it took to Facebook to invite neighbors in for "beer on us," noting that while it lost hundreds of bottles of wine, its beer taps emerged unscathed. In light of the earthquake, Napa Valley Vinters cancelled its annual Harvest Party, instead announcing on Facebook that it would donate the food to volunteers helping in recovery efforts.

"I'm just very grateful for the staff, all their hard work; the community. I'm very proud to call myself a Napan today."

As the team at Bounty Hunter cleaned out its food inventory, unable to serve customers in its building, the bar decided to hold a fundraising event — not to cover its own losses, but instead for a former employee whose sister unexpectedly passed away the morning of the quake. The Wednesday after the earthquake, the Bounty Hunter team raised $4,500 serving free barbecue and beer to the community, who donated whatever they could afford to the woman's family. "The outpouring of community that came down and donated, and how generous they were, it was amazing," Wright says. "I'm just very grateful for the staff, all their hard work; the community. I'm very proud to call myself a Napan today."

According to the Downtown Napa Association, 90 percent of the city's wineries and restaurants have re-opened, and locally, many are encouraging visitors to show their support by patronizing the restaurants currently open.

Wright suggests that the industry's relief focus may soon turn to the servers, winery employees, and business owners who are currently out of work. "A lot of people in this industry rely on paycheck-to-paycheck," Wright says. "They're not making any money right now [while their employers are closed]." Thankfully, his employees are no longer among them. "If you lose one week out of the year, that's a small price to pay," Wright says. "One week isn't going to take us down."

· Napa Quake May Cost Over $1 Billion in Damages [-EN-]
· All Napa Valley Coverage on Eater [-E-]

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