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  • Jancis Robinson
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  • Jancis Robinson
31 Oct 2005

David Schildknecht writes: Sad reports have been reaching me from those California vintners who lost their bottled wines to the recent fire at the Mare Island storage facility.  An especially poignant and perceptive report comes from Trent Moffett of Livingston-Moffett, a  [first class - JR] winery in Rutherford that lost their family reserves of older vintages in addition to all of their more current wines in bottle - more than two entire vintage's worth.

The scene confronting vintner visitors to Mare Island last week, writes Trent, "was unbelievable.  Wine and mold everywhere, the smoke smell almost made me gag and the destruction took your breath away.  There are piles and piles of wine from pallets falling over due to water damage, our library area was just a bunch of ash.  Stacks and stacks of wine sit there without any cardboard around them from the fire: it's amazing they still stand and many fall each night, I'm told."  "The best-off boxes," Trent subsequently told me, "look like toasted marshmallows. We pulled some bottles of our wine from the lowest part of a stack to find out how it tasted.  It was clearly damaged beyond rescue."

Trent expressed dismay at hearing a number of winery proprietors talk about salvaging saleable merchandise from the devastation.  He reports that the Napa Valley Vintners' Association has convened a wide-ranging group of vintners, lawyers, insurance experts and others for some frank discussions about the grim options.  "Rombauer," says Trent, referring to the June 2000 fire at the Rombauer-Larkmeade facility in Calistoga that damaged or destroyed nearly 100,000 csaes of wine, "was foremost on people's minds. Until then, nobody in Napa Valley had had any real experience with fire."  Following that June 2000 blaze, as was widely reported at the time, Rombauer unwittingly found wines salvaged from the fire by their insurance agents dumped on certain US markets, still with their original labels.  Trent Moffet indicates that after participating in the recent sessions organized by the Napa Valley Wine Growers Association, he hoped and believed that few if any vintners would still be thinking about salvage. If they are, I am sure that they are now wise to the precautions of re-corking, re-labeling, and legal protections.

"We will personally witness the destruction of our wine - every last bottle and cork," says Trent, "so it doesn't end up back in the market."

Mel Knox draws our attention to this disturbing background story in the San Francisco Chronicle.