A River Runs Red

A River Runs Red

On Wednesday January 22, 2020, at approximately 1:30 pm, the door near the bottom of a large blending tank, containing near 100,000 gallons of wine, popped open, spilling wine onto the ground at Rodney Strong Vineyards in Healdsburg, California.

The wine flowed into an inlet on the floor of the wine production building, and through underground pipes that empty into four wastewater ponds on the property. The ponds filled up quickly, and the drains and sewer system became overwhelmed by the rushing gallons of wine, and then it poured into the Reiman Creek, which runs through the property and out into the Russian River. 

Rodney Strong staff managed to get the tank closed, pumped some of the remaining wine into another tank, and notified authorities within a couple of hours of the incident. The staff immediately started to clean up the spill on the property, using two vacuum trucks, along with trying to assemble a temporary dam to stop the spillage from going into the Reiman Creek; however, with the height of the water due to winter, this was a daunting task. All other tanks at the Rodney Strong property are being carefully inspected.

The winery self-reported they saved over half of the wine in the tank. Rodney Strong staff worked closely with California Office of Emergency Response, Healdsburg Fire Department, Sonoma County Sheriff, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The wine that was lost equates to about 500,000 bottles, and was enough to fill eight tanker trucks.  The cause of the leak was stated to be mechanical, therefor, the incident was not caused by human error or sabotage. The tank was 97,000 gallons but Rodney Strong indicates that only 20-25 percent of the tank made it into the creek and river. 

Wine isn’t believed to be as harmful to the environment as raw sewage, because wine doesn’t contain toxic pollutants. Wine is highly acidic and untreated. A saving grace to the environment may be the fact that this event occurred during winter, when the water levels on the river where running very high. According to the United States Geological Survey, the river was moving nine times the volume of the wine in water each second, meaning that the wine was being diluted rapidly.

Environmental groups appear to be encouraged by the initial study, which showed no loss of fish, which is usually an indicator of the level of impact to the environs. There has probably been some loss of fish food and small organisms which couldn’t get away from the spill. Russian River Keeper, an environmental non-profit group that keeps a vigilant eye on the waterway, has about 50 volunteers monitoring the river since the spill. Encouraging signs this weekend included frogs behaving normally along the waterway banks.

The cabernet sells for about $27 a bottle so the loss to the winery is estimated to be in the millions, in addition to the cost of the clean-up efforts. There may be some misdemeanor charges and penalties stemming from the leak to be levied on the winery.

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