In 2014, a 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck Napa Valley in the early dawn hours, shattering thousands of bottles of wine. Winery owner Marguerite Capp told Reuters that she lost dozens of bottles in her tasting room just two weeks before their peak tourism season began. She was caught completely unprepared, saying, “Mother Nature moves on whether or not we are ready for her.” That is the main problem with earthquakes: scientists can’t predict them and we have no way of completely preventing the damage they cause. However, there are still some steps that collectors can take to create an earthquake-resistant wine cellar. These steps aren’t guaranteed to stop “The Big One” from damaging your collection, but they can limit the harm that smaller earthquakes cause.
How Earthquakes Damage Bottles
Earthquakes damage wine in four ways: by breaking glass, staining labels, disturbing sediment, and causing the loss of power. The first, and most obvious, way earthquakes damage wine is by knocking bottles off wine racks and causing them to shatter on the floor. But while you’re busy mourning the loss of the shattered bottles, you might not realize that the intact bottles were also damaged. Broken bottles can splash wine onto otherwise undamaged bottles, staining their labels beyond recognition, reducing their value, and making them difficult to sell later. In addition, vibration ruins wine by shaking up sediment at the bottom of the bottle, causing chemical reactions that change the flavor of the wine. Finally, major earthquakes can knock out power lines, leaving your cellar exposed to extreme heat or cold.
How You Can Prevent Earthquake Damage to Your Wines
To make an earthquake-resistant wine cellar, you need to keep your bottles locked in place using padding and custom cabinets. By doing this, you can prevent your bottles from falling on the floor and shattering, which also saves the surrounding bottles from label damage. If you’re in an area of the country prone to earthquakes, you’ll also want a backup generator for temperature-controlled cellars.
First, create a cabinet around your wine racks. Use materials that are shatterproof (like plexiglass) and durable (like odor-free wood). Next, install the cabinet so that it is secured to the wall behind it; don’t put your bottles in freestanding, pre-made cabinets, as these can topple over in an earthquake. Once the sides are secure, install cabinet doors that fit close to the edges of your racks. If a bottle comes loose from the rack, the door should be close enough to stop it from rolling out onto the floor. Finally, install earthquake-resistant cabinet door latches to the front, making sure that they won’t come undone in the middle of a quake.
To absorb as much vibration as possible, wrap your bottles in styrofoam or rubber pads that are molded to fit the shape of your bottle. The pads should sit inside your wine rack and absorb some of the shock from an earthquake. On a daily basis, this extra padding entirely neutralizes mild vibrations that come from household appliances (like washing machines). In an earthquake scenario, the padding won’t always stop vibrations entirely, but it will keep your bottles as still as possible.
If you have a cooling unit and humidifier in your cellar, you need a backup plan in the event you lose power. Have a backup generator ready to kick in. This will also be a useful plan B in case of blackouts or other weather-related power outages.
Get Your Bottles Insured
Sometimes, even with the best planning, earthquakes can damage bottles. This is why you should consider adding an earthquake clause to your home insurance plan. In most cases, this type of clause will cover damage to your wine bottles, but you should discuss this with your insurance provider. In addition, hire an appraiser to accurately determine the worth of your collection and document your most valuable bottles with photographs. The more information you have before any damage is done, the more likely you will be compensated for your losses later. Being insured won’t bring your rarest bottles back, but it will at least save you from taking a major financial loss.
When to Use Professional Storage Instead
If you live in an area that rarely has earthquakes, building an earthquake-resistant cellar and getting your bottles insured should be enough to protect your collection. However, if you live in a region that is prone to earthquakes, storing with a professional warehouse might be a better option. When you send your bottles to a warehouse, not only can you choose to store your bottles in a region that has fewer earthquakes, but you can rely on professionals with expertise in preventing earthquake damage, and you can be confident that the storage facility has been carefully designed to minimize earthquake damage. While even professional storage can’t eliminate risk, it is one of the best ways to protect your investment and give you peace of mind.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s best wine.
With over a decade of experience in the wine industry, Derek Cienfuegos serves as Director of Collector Services at Vinfolio. During his tenure at Vinfolio, he has had the good fortune to work with some of the most distinguished wine collections in the country. Trained in wine production, Derek spent many years making wines commercially for some of Sonoma’s top producers. In addition, he has designed, opened, and managed two wine bars in San Francisco.