Nearly half a million bottles of Cabernet were lost.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated January 24, 2020
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A river of red wine might sound like the coolest thing you can imagine—especially when combined with a pool float and an empty wine glass. But you probably shouldn’t rush to book a trip to Sonoma County based on that Willy Wonka-like image alone: As is often the case with these kinds of stories, the reality isn’t as fun as our imaginations make it out to be.

Nearly 500,000 bottles’ worth of wine—enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool over a seventh of the way—spilled out of a blending tank at Rodney Strong Vineyards on Wednesday after a door reportedly popped open. “We’re investigating what appears to be a mechanical failure: We’re not entirely sure about that at this point,” Christopher O’Gorman, a winery spokesperson, told ABC7. “But we’re deeply, deeply concerned about this leak and protecting our waterways here in Sonoma County.”

An aerial photo of surrounding farms and vineyards along the Russian River on July 15, 2013, near Healdsburg, California.
George Rose/Getty Images

Though the winery says they attempted to pump the Cabernet elsewhere once the leak was discovered, California’s Office of Emergency Service reportedly believes the vast majority of the contents of the approximately 97,000-gallon tank escaped, with the liquid heading down drains and into ponds on the estate. From there, the wine made it into a nearby creek which runs into the Russian River—enough to give the waterway “a cherry red tint,” according to the Press Democrat. Rodney Strong told ABC7 they believe only about 20- to 25-percent of the tank capacity make it all the way to the river, though CNN cites the OES report as saying the number could be as high as 46,000 to 96,000 gallons.

Regardless, Don McEnhill, executive director of Russian Riverkeeper, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the river, described the results as “dodging a bullet,” despite saying it may be the biggest spill in county history. “We're lucky in that it's winter. The river’s high. There's a fair amount of dilution,” he told ABC7. “We haven't had any reports of fish kills, certainly the biochemical oxygen demand and the acidity of the wine is going to kill some smaller insect type things that are fish food. This could have been a lot worse.”

Speaking of worse, financially-speaking, Rodney Strong won’t be too happy. Apparently, the wine in the tanks retails for about $27 a bottle. So consider this likely over $13 million worth of wine quite literally down the drain.