Federal officials are investigating the cause
of a huge Vallejo warehouse fire believed to have destroyed
or damaged as much as $100 million of stored vintage wines
and other food materials.
Some rare bottles may have been worth about $1,000 each,
officials said, and C&H Sugar lost an estimated $2.1
million of its sugar inventory.
Wines Central converted an old military warehouse into
a 240,000-square-foot facility that stored an estimated
half a million cases of wine, including rare vintages and
in some cases entire inventories for dozens of Bay Area
wineries and private individual collectors.
The facility also stored other food items, including sugar,
pasta and pasta sauce, for C&H Sugar and the Neibaum-Coppola
Because the fire broke out in a former Navy warehouse with
thick concrete walls and steel doors, some observers suspect
arson, but officials had not pinpointed the fire's cause
as of late morning Friday. "It's suspicious, but we're
not classifying it as arson," said Bill Tweedy, a Vallejo
Fire Department spokesman.
Tweedy said a physical inspection of the structure with
the ATF's national response squad will start Saturday and
take several days to complete.
The eight-alarm fire caused an estimated $10 million in
structural damage to the warehouse, according to the ATF,
and the possible loss of tens of millions of dollars of
stored wine from an unspecified number of local wineries
and private collectors.
Although much of the inventory was insured, some was not.
But the larger impact in many cases will be the loss of
various specific vintages, said grape and wine broker Bill
Turrentine, president of Novato's Turrentine Brokerage.
"Wine is a product tied not only to a place but to
a time," he told the Business Times. "If you lose
a vintage, that's a real problem."
Once a winery loses a spot on a restaurant's wine list,
Turrentine said, it's not easy to win its way back on.