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California and the West

Vineyards Escape Major Rain Damage

With the harvest long over, many vintners face only the prospect of cleaning up the mess.

January 04, 2006|From Associated Press

Massive winter storms made a mess in California's wine country, but the rains weren't expected to wash out the region's valuable grape crop.

Weekend storms washed debris over vine trellises, knocked down posts and sent soil down hills.

But with the 2005 harvest safely in and the vines dormant for the winter, vintners weren't expecting serious problems.

"There's certainly been a lot of vines underwater, but they've been underwater before," said Nick Frey, executive director of the Sonoma County Grape Growers Assn.

The large problem facing vintners was repairing damage to downed posts and flooded equipment, cleaning out the rubbish washed in by urban floodwaters and digging out from sediment.

Hillside growers, however, have to build up soil eroded by the storms.

"It's a mixed blessing," said Jennifer Kopp, executive director of the Napa Valley Grape Growers Assn. "Some people just got a lot of soil and fertility, and some people lost it."

The storms hit hard over the weekend, swelling the Napa River to 5 feet above flood stage and swamping several downtown blocks.

Napa officials said about 600 homes and 150 businesses were flooded, causing about $50 million in damage. Estimates for vineyard flooding weren't immediately available.

"There'll be debris washed up, and there probably was some debris taken off the property," said Chris Carpenter, winemaker at the Cardinale winery in Oakville. "The vines are pretty resilient and they're all shut down, so they can be completely submerged and they'll all come back."

The emphasis Monday was on the damage done to businesses and homes, Carpenter said.

People have planted crops in flood areas "for millennia," he said. "What's happened is they're also starting to plant houses in flood areas because they're beautiful places to be in."

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