At the end of August, an earthquake hit Northern California, injuring dozens of people and damaging property. The industry that seemed to be hit the hardest by this particular quake, known as the South Napa Earthquake, was the wine industry.
Early estimates of the damage to the Napa Valley wine industry were around $80 million. Most of that was in broken bottles or barrels of wine or building damage. The quake didn’t seem to have much effect on the grapes on the vine that were just about ready for the late summer harvest.
Napa Valley, the country’s best-known wine growing region, is vulnerable to earthquakes. It sits on a fault zone. Why build a multibillion dollar industry on top of a fault zone? The answer is a paradox. Natural disasters can be damaging to the wine industry in Napa Valley, but it's these natural disasters that help make Napa Valley so perfect for wine growing to begin with.
Smithsonian says earthquakes caused by the fault create “a spectacular diversity of soil: over 100 variations, or equal to half of the world's soil orders.” The diversity allows for a wide variety of grapes to be grown. The conditions make for an ideal climate to grow grapes in. The hills and valleys created by the natural disasters of yesterday — some of them 30 million years ago — influence the climate.
In other words, the wineries that call Napa Valley home could not produce the same quality of wines if they relocated to a less risky region. The earthquake conditions that create the risk also create some really good soil and climate — terroir as the French call it, a term that American wine growers and drinkers have adopted, too. Simply put, wines take on the taste of the conditions they’re grown in.
It’s not just wine that benefits from soil created from natural disasters. The highly sought-after Kona coffee that’s grown only in the small Kona region along the west coast of the Hawaiian mainland benefits from the volcanic soil along the coast.
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