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Sonoma Winery Blending Tank Springs A Leak; Thousands Of Gallons Flow Into Russian River

HEALDSBURG (CBS SF/AP) -- Crews at the Rodney Strong Winery were cleaning up a massive wine spill Thursday after a blending tank sprang a leak and dumped more than 97,000 gallons of red wine onto the ground and into a nearby creek.

Christopher O'Gorman, the winery's communications manager told KPIX that the leak was detected at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

"The leak resulted in some wine flowing out of the building with a portion entering a creek at the winery," he said. "In addition to working as fast as possible to contain the leak, per our emergency protocols we immediately notified the California Office of Emergency Response and Healdsburg Fire Department. We have been working closely with those agencies in addition to the Sonoma County Sheriff and California Department of Fish & Wildlife."

He said it appears an "apparent mechanical failure" caused the leak. Crews working in a nearby cellar heard something go wrong with the tank and tried to stop the flow.

"Some amount of that went into the creek. We had two different teams pumping wine out of the creek. So some amount smaller than that, we think went down stream," O'Gorman told KPIX.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported that the Cabernet Sauvignon, enough to fill eight large tanker trucks, spilled after a door near the bottom of a large blending tank popped open, spilling all of the wine it was holding into a sanitary sewer system on the property.

The wine then spilled into a drainage ditch that feeds into Reiman Creek and eventually made its way to the Russian River.

"We saw signs of frogs in the creek today that we're doing their normal thing and we saw some invertebrates as well - so that's a good sign," said Trisha Taniguchi from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The agency noted no visible fish kills thus far from the spill. The wine pouring into the river may have been diluted by runoff from the recent rainstorm, according to Taniguchi.

Don McEnhill, the executive director of Russian River Keeper, said there was still reason for concern.

"With the wine being an organic substance, it hits the water it starts breaking down, it consumes oxygen and oxygen in the water is what fish breathe," explained McEnhill.

According to the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, which was notified of the accident on Wednesday, about 20 percent of the 97,112 gallons spilled were contained. Estimates showed anywhere between 46,000 and 96,000 gallons reached the Russian River.

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office helicopter determined the wine reached as far south as Riverfront Regional Park within a matter of hours.

Rodney Strong contracted with two vacuum truck operators to clean up the spill, and tried to assemble a dam in the creek, Elson said. The containment measure was unsuccessful, since water was flowing faster because of the recent rains.

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report

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