West Coast port dispute disrupting critical supply chains

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) -- The West Coast port slowdown is affecting hundreds of thousands of businesses, large and small, as firm after firm faces long, unspecified delays for things they desperately need.

Portocork of Napa is the nation's biggest importer, processor and distributor of natural cork wine stoppers, mostly from Portugal. Wineries and spirits makers all over America, Canada and Mexico buy corks processed and labeled by the 32-year-old business.

Cork is incredibly sustainable. You cut the bark off the tree, it grows back in nine years. You punch the corks out of the bark. You bag them up for whatever bottling needs there may be.

But getting those bags of corks to customers is proving to be very difficult.

"We're having a lot of conversations with customers talking about this port crisis," said Portocork President Dustin Mowe. "So they're calling us now, asking for samples, asking for orders and I don't have any product to fulfill."

Mowe says he's got 17 truck-sized sea containers caught up in a slowdown dispute between the Longshoremen versus the shipping lines and port terminal operators.

"We have, roughly, about 28 million stoppers sitting down at the port right now, which I don't have access to and not sure when we're going to have access to," said Mowe.

The containers are stuck in mountains of other containers at the port, sitting in ships waiting to unload or some dropped in Mexico because there is no space at the other West Coast ports.

"For us, we're a service business. We're here to service customers. If our customers don't have product, we're done," said Mowe.

Portocork is asking that some orders at sea be dropped at East Coast and Gulf Coast ports. Trucking them to Napa from there will cost as much as $12,000 a load since East Coast truckers are charging a quadruple premium. Air freight is 10 times sea freight.

"If it means my costs go going up considerably -- to bring product over here by airplane, which means I could have it next week -- we will do that," insisted Mowe.

Corks, like bottles and labels are in what's called a supply chain. Every manufacturer and retailer of any product in the nation is getting caught up in this ever worsening supply chain mess.