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48,000 Gallons Of Wine Spill Into Sonoma Co. Creek, Russian River

  • May 20, 2020
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HEALDSBURG, CA — An estimated 48,000 gallons of red wine spilled into a Russian River tributary creek this week but there were no immediate signs that any fish or wildlife were adversely affected by the wine, a 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, representatives for both the involved winery and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said Friday.

The spill into Rieman Creek and then the Russian River happened Wednesday when a blending tank containing 97,000 gallons of wine started leaking, a spokesperson for Rodney Strong Vineyards said.

“We know we captured at least half of that as: wine saved in another tank, wine captured and stored in our vynd pond and wine pumped out of creek and also stored in our pond,” Rodney Strong Wine Estates Director of Communications Chris O’Gorman said.

“Unfortunately, some wine made it from the creek into the Russian River,” O’Gorman said.

Mother Nature lent a hand, because on Wednesday when the leak occurred, recent rains had the river flowing at its highest volume of the week, he said.

The winery followed protocol by immediately notifying the California Office of Emergency Response, the Healdsburg Fire Department and California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“Our best estimate is that at least 50 percent of the wine was diverted from waterways — captured by winery pumps, drainpipes into our vineyard ponds, and additional pumping out of Reiman Creek by Rodney Strong personnel and a local third-party company,” O’Gorman said.

“We are investigating the apparent mechanical failure and have begun developing a plan with the CDFW to clean up the creek bank without doing damage to the environment,” O’Gorman said.

A California Department of Fish and Wildlife — CDFW — scientist was at the spill site Friday, continuing to monitor how much of the wine entered the river and what effects it may have, a spokesperson for the state agency told Patch.

“No fish and wildlife have been impacted to date,” CDFW Spokesman Eric Laughlin said. “If it were oil, it would have been much worse: it floats to the top. Wine is obviously more soluble. In fast-moving water, you see the dilution.”

Most of the wine that did enter the Russian River was “pretty flushed out,” he said.

“With wine, you can see a change in pH levels — or depleted oxygen levels — and that can kill fish, but because of the recent rains we think it became pretty diluted before that could happen,” Laughlin said.

The focus now, he confirmed, was clean-up of the creek bank.

“We had the higher water levels with the rains, so it left some staining on the bank,” said Laughlin, who shared the below video clip of the spill site.

Rodney Strong Vineyards — a family-owned wine company founded in 1959 that now farms 14 sustainable-certified estate vineyards and produces wines from seven Sonoma County appellations — worked urgently to contain the leak and save as much wine as possible, according to O’Gorman.

Since then, Rodney Strong personnel have continued working closely on containment measures, not only with CDFW but also with the Sonoma County Water Control Board, he said.

The CDFW and Russian Riverkeepers organization, who have 50 volunteers monitoring the Russian River from the winery in Healdsburg to the Pacific Ocean, both reported late Thursday, Jan. 23, that four separate indicators of system health — frogs, water strider bugs, steelhead trout, and local birds — were all present and appeared unaffected 24 hours after the spill, with no further impacts expected.

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“Most of us here grew up swimming in the Russian River, and it is a vital part of our local eco-system,” O’Gorman said. “We are deeply concerned and are doing absolutely everything in our power to protect our waterways.”


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