Home > History of Wine > “They wet gunny sacks with wine to save the homes.” Wine related scenes from the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

“They wet gunny sacks with wine to save the homes.” Wine related scenes from the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake


My Facebook and Twitter feeds are alive with images of destruction from this weekend’s terrible earthquake in Napa Valley.  These images reveal aisles of broken wine bottles on the floor, huge jumbled piles of wine barrels, tilted tanks spilling wine, and even tanks crushed by the vacuum created from the rush of exiting wine.  The great April 18, 1906 San Francisco earthquake also saw a terrible loss of wine from the destruction of warehouses in the city.  This destruction was complete due to the fires that raged the city.  The loss in the surrounding areas was reported as $50,000 in Napa, $8,000 in Calistoga, and $5,000 in Vallejo. [6]  Some 20 business and 20 residences were completely destroyed in Napa alone.  Despite this devastation the Citizens of Napa sent 5000 loaves of bread, 18 hogsheads of water, and 500 pounds of bean to San Francisco aboard the steamers Zinfandel, Napa City, and St. Helena.

[Earthquake damage to Napa and Sonoma Wine Co. Tenth and Howard Sts.] Bear Photo Co. 1906. [1]

[Earthquake damage to Napa and Sonoma Wine Co. Tenth and Howard Sts.] Bear Photo Co. 1906. [1]

2nd [Second] & Howard. Einar Wismer [?] thinks this is an old Wine Assn. Bldg. Wieland Brewery at right, chimney, built 1881. 1906. [2]

2nd [Second] & Howard. Einar Wismer [?] thinks this is an old Wine Assn. Bldg. Wieland Brewery at right, chimney, built 1881. 1906. [2]

At the time the California Wine Association maintained several warehouses for wine in San Francisco.   The association was created in 1894 and by controlling 80% of pre-Prohibition wine production, it was the largest wine association in the world.  These warehouses would have contained a tremendous amount of wine.   The University of California archives contains several images revealing the destruction of these warehouses.  While some show a few charred vats they all reveal a sea of bent metal hoops.  These are the skeletal remains of all the barrels full of wine.  The California Wine Association carried an insurance policy that had an earthquake clause that initially prevented at least one payment.  This was contested in a superior court case where the jury decided the fate of the cellars at Fifth and Bluxome Streets.  Incredibly, this trial involved 189 witnesses and 13 weeks of time after which the jury found the warehouse was destroyed by incendiary origins on April 18, 1906, instead of earthquake origins.  This resulted in a $2,500 policy paid to the Association.  [5]  Let us hope that the process of is less laborious this time around.

California Wine Association, Lachman Cellar, June 2, 1906. [3]

California Wine Association, Lachman Cellar, June 2, 1906. [3]

These are the homes on Jones & Vallejo that were saved by refusing to be dynamited. They wet gunny sacks with wine to save the homes. The new one later owned by Paul Verdier was built right after fire at Taylor & Vallejo. 1906. [4]

These are the homes on Jones & Vallejo that were saved by refusing to be dynamited. They wet gunny sacks with wine to save the homes. The new one later owned by Paul Verdier was built right after fire at Taylor & Vallejo. 1906. [4]


[1] Earthquake damage to Napa and Sonoma Wine Co. Tenth and Howard Sts. 1906. Local Call Number: F869.S3.S24794 Vol. 1:025b. Calisphere, University of California. URL: http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/hb9c60100b/?layout=metadata&brand=calisphere
[2] 2nd [Second] & Howard. Einar Wismer [?] thinks this is an old Wine Assn. Bldg. Wieland Brewery at right, chimney, built 1881. 1906. Local Call Number: FN-26775. Calisphere, University of California. URL: http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/hb787008wx/?layout=metadata&brand=calisphere
[3] California Wine Association, Lachman Cellar, June 2, 1906. Local Call Number: F869.S3.S24794 Vol. 2:085. Calisphere, University of California. URL: http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/hb0q2nb0s8/?layout=metadata&brand=calisphere
[4] These are the homes on Jones & Vallejo that were saved by refusing to be dynamited. They wet gunny sacks with wine to save the homes. The new one later owned by Paul Verdier was built right after fire at Taylor & Vallejo. 1906. Local Call Number: FN-01868. Calisphere, University of California. URL: http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/hb4j49p0d6/?layout=metadata&brand=calisphere
[5] Loss on California Wine Association Cellars. San Francisco Call, Volume 103, Number 138, 16 April 1908. California Digital Newspaper Collection.
[6] Heavy Loss in Napa. San Francisco Call, Volume 99, Number 143, 22 April 1906. California Digital Newspaper Collection.

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