Click here to bypass page layout and jump directly to story.=

UC Berkeley >

University of California

Web Features






  Press Releases

  Image Downloads



Test shakes up California wine industry
31 Jul 2000

Representatives of California's wine industry got a sobering demonstration on Friday of the damage a large earthquake could cause in their cellars.

Watch Video
Watch a video of the demonstration,
including an introduction by Joshua Marrow.

The demonstration was set up by UC Berkeley civil engineering graduate student Joshua Marrow, who has received support from many segments of the wine industry for his studies of wine barrel stacking methods.

During a simulated 7.4 earthquake - the kind that could hit any of a number of faults in northern California - wine barrels toppled and racks collapsed in a matter of seconds, spilling water that could easily be a premium pinot noir. Only straps tethering the barrels to the ceiling prevented them from bursting open and sloshing their contents into the gutter.

"I'm kind of in shock," said Jeff Ritchey, winemaker at the small Clos LaChance winery in Los Gatos. "This shows there's not a whole lot you can do if you're in the cellar when an earthquake hits."

Ritchey was one of numerous representatives from wineries that included Mondavi, Lohr and Phelps, plus people from the wine insurance industry, present to see first hand how current stacking techniques stand up to a quake.

"Large wineries like Kendall-Jackson, Mondavi and Gallo can have 50,000 to 60,000 barrels stored," Marrow said. "At $3,000 to $5,000 a barrel, counting the value of both wine and barrel, this can really add up and cause a major business loss or even bankruptcy."

Marrow noted that Ahlgren Vineyards in Boulder Creek, for example, lost the equivalent of 200 cases of premium grade barrel select chardonnay when barrels stacked in pyramids came toppling down during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Most of the wine spilled when the bungs jolted loose. Despite this loss, the winery still stacks barrels in pyramid configurations up to five barrels high because it uses limited floor space more efficiently, Marrow said.

San Martin Winery, now owned by Arroyo Seco Vineyards, was driven into bankruptcy by the 1984 Morgan Hill earthquake.

The shake test was conducted on the nation's largest earthquake simulator at UC Berkeley's Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center in Richmond. Robert Mondavi Winery donated 60-gallon oak wine barrels for the test, which Marrow filled with water and stacked in various configurations up to six barrels - about 18 feet - high.

wine barrel shake demo


Video of demonstration

Joshua Marrow's Web site