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Vardo in the Vineyard: Reed and Oak, or Flexibility in the Face of a Shakeup

My vardo sits approximately seven miles from the epicenter of the recent South Napa Earthquake. At 3:20 a.m. on August 24th, I’d just arrived home and was slipping into bed, having not yet slept from the previous Saturday night. (That’s how we party in wine country.) As I finally pulled up the covers, I was thrown sideways while the thin walls of my trailer contorted wildly. I stumbled out the door with the place rocking like a haunted funhouse.

When it was over, I was lucky. We were all lucky — not just to have survived without greater injury or destruction, but to begin recovering so quickly. Could winemaking have taught our community a little something about coping with the unexpected, long before this disaster struck?

I start with myself, at home. Trailers are known for their supposedly flimsy construction; I’ve never been under the delusion that my cozy abode is invulnerable. That night I sat in utter shock under a starry sky, marveling. How did that thing stay sound?

ConfuciusConfucius says: “The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in the storm.”

Not to be outdone, my mom has an answer, too: in her requisite worried phone call the day after the quake, she reminded me that my trailer’s wheels are shock absorbers, which likely helped save the place.

Both sages (the ancient one and my mom) point to the wisdom of flexibility, or resilience.

I didn’t feel very resilient in the wake of that event. Alone in the dark, I felt like the sole survivor of a mini-apocalypse. My vardo recovered from the jolt more quickly — lit by a backup battery, it threw a hopeful ray of light into the black night. Yet by 4:30 a.m., I was gearing up to inspect my employer’s winery for damage. Ultimately, we discovered that while we were nearly unscathed, our neighbors lost 50 barrels.

To winemakers, business owners, and residents alike, the South Napa earthquake delivered a harsh blow. While lost wine and broken belongings cannot be recovered, our community itself has emerged arguably stronger.

Such dramatic events often reveal our strengths — not only as individuals, but as groups. And in Napa and Sonoma Wine Country, I am learning to count resilience as a strength. Our agricultural work draws us closer to the land than much of modern American society. We regularly encounter the unexpected. I’ve seen this before: from the vineyards to the tanks to the bottling lines, winemakers must remain flexible. Has rainy season arrived early, leaving fruit susceptible to mold? Is a fermentation stuck? Mother Nature occasionally steers us off course; to find our path again, we must remain nimble. Often to our own surprise, we do.


Above: We get by with a little help from our friends: a few days after the quake, we venture out to support Napa wineries. (Courtesy of Amy Tsaykel)

Four days after the quake, a friend visiting from the East Coast joined me for dinner at Zuzu, a restaurant in downtown Napa that was heavily hit. The place had just reopened, and owner Mick Salyer was nearly beaming. My friend, who’d endured the unusual 5.8 earthquake in Washington, D.C. several years ago, was flummoxed at the positivity she witnessed that night. “So many people elsewhere in the world would not be this upbeat right now,” she said. “This guy [Mick] is blowing my mind. You all are.”

I agree. The community — you, me, we, us — has made me so proud.

CellarNone of us will look back fondly on what happened August 24. But I regard fondly how we came together as a community. This week, I’ll be taking this week to not only create an earthquake kit (finally, after 14 years in California) but to build a proper cellar in my trailer. No amount of stockpiled goods can ever fully prepare us for what comes next — but with an extra reserve of resilience, we're bound to survive.

Left: I gathered materials for my temperature controlled cellar and finished it, all within an hour. (Courtesy of Amy Tsaykel)

If you’d like to help victims of the South Napa Earthquake, consider doing so through Napa Vintners.

House Wine

In this section, we at Grape Collective typically recommend a wine. Yet now we turn the question back on you, the reader: what one wine would you stash in your disaster kit?

Fellow wine professional Bradley Friedman plans to weather any prospective calamity with a bottle of Thierry Allemand Cornas Reynard preferably from 1995 or earlier. “It’s soul and truth and life,” he swears, exaggerating maybe a little. Surely one needs such virtues when the world is coming to an end.

GracePersonally, I’d stow away a 2009 A Tribute to Grace Grenache, as it was the first wine to ever move me to tears. In an emergency, I’d much rather cry tears of joy than tears of sorrow. Besides, I’ll bet it pairs really nicely with a tin of pork and beans.

A few drops of magical elixir can surely only increase our resilience. What’s yours?

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