The Napa Valley we love today has changed over the years, but has always retained its rustic charm. Wine is a window with a view into regional culture and tradition. In today’s Napa Valley, wisdom passed down through generations is seamlessly integrated with the most sophisticated wine science and technology the industry has ever seen. While satellites above us take moisture and temperature readings of individual vines, we can still walk into a wine tasting at the very first winery in Napa County. This blend of old and new is part of the charm and character of Napa, and can be discovered by taking wine tours and wine tasting throughout the valley.
Early pioneer George C Yount is often credited with planting some of the first wine grapes in the Napa Valley. When his granddaughter married Thomas Rutherford, Yount granted them about 1,000 acres, which Rutherford dedicated to winemaking. Yountville and Rutherford, respectively, now bear the names of their earliest settlers. Charles Krug, founded in 1861, was the first winery in the Napa Valley and more recently underwent a striking renovation. A Finnish sea captain named Gustave Niebaum founded a winery called Inglenook in 1879, which is still operational and now owned by Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola. By the dawn of the 20th century, Napa was host to nearly 150 wineries, and a handful still produce wine today! Although phylloxera, Prohibition and the Great Depression dealt a heavy blow to wine business in the Napa Valley, several wineries survived, including familiar places like Beaulieu and Beringer Vineyards.
In a brilliant publicity move ahead of it’s time, Beringer enticed stars like Clark Gable to make the short trip up from San Francisco to enjoy wine country. After this, celebrities weren’t the only people visiting for wine tasting. In 1965 Robert Mondavi opened his winery in Oakville, the first new and large-scale winery opened since Prohibition. Tourism continued to grow and thrive, but reached a new era in 1976. That year, a now infamous wine tasting dubbed ‘The Judgment of Paris’ pitted California’s wines against France’s best, and shocked the world when the California Cabernets and Chardonnays beat Bordeaux and Burgundy. After this the region’s reputation grew as fast as the number of wineries and the Napa Valley started to become the “eno-tourism” destination we recognize today. Pre-Prohibition wineries Far Niente and Chateau Montelena were given a second chance in 1979 and 1972 respectively, and hundreds of new wineries sprung up around them. Superstar winemakers were created, and now 40 years after the Judgment of Paris, millions of visitors come to the Napa Valley every year. Today’s visitors can be treated to a full immersion of agriculture at places like Round Pond. They not only offer wine tasting, but tours of gardens and olive oil production facilities, as well as delicious food focused tours.
There is so much story behind the wine tasting in Napa Valley, it would be impossible to write it all down. But you can learn first hand with Beau Wine Tours. If you are interested in seeing the oldest buildings in Napa, or the most recent trendy tasting rooms, we can get you there in style. We can custom create a day that can take you and your palate on a trip through the history of generations.
Napa’s first winery Charles Krug founded by an immigrant of the same name, and is owned by part of the Mondavi family. See them speak to the history of the winery as well as the Napa Valley below: