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History of Napa Wineries
by Benjamin Bicais

Napa Wineries and Vineyards enjoy a long viticultural history that dates back to 1836. In this year, George Yount settled on the 12,000 acre Caymus Rancho near the modern day town of Yountville. General Vallejo granted Yount the land as part of Mexico's secularization of Spain's former holdings. Three years later, Yount planted the first grapes in the Napa Valley.

Colonel Joseph Ballinger Chiles was another earlier settler whom was granted land from General Vallejo in modern day Chiles Valley. In 1861, Charles Krug established the first St. Helena Winery. This was followed by the founding of Inglenook in 1879 by Captain Gustave Niebaum in Rutherford. These were booming years for Napa Valley Wineries. However, the coming decades would see two devastating setbacks.

The first occured during the 1880s and 1890s when Phylloxera ravaged vinyards throughout the Napa Valley. Phylloxera originated in Europe, and attacks the roots of vitis vinifera vines.

The pest was eventually combatted when it was discovered that vitis vinifera cuttings could be grafted onto Phylloxera resistant rootstocks. Unfortunately, an immense amount of damage had already been done to many of the best Napa Valley vineyards.

The second debilitating setback occured in 1919, when Prohibition became the law of the land in the United States. Most Napa Valley Wineries did not survive these two massive setbacks. A few weathered Phylloxera and then dealt with Prohibition through two major loopholes.

Sacramental wine was not banned under Prohibition, and some Napa Valley Wineries were able to stay afloat by producing wine for the Church. Located in the BV Winery weathered Prohibition using this tactic.

Male heads of household were also allowed to make fifty gallons of wine per year for private use under the Volstead Act. Some wineries and vineyard owners began selling grapes for home wine-making.

However, the vast majority of wineries went out of business, and many former vineyards were converted to other crops. Tragically, the exceptional terroir enjoyed by Napa Valley Wineries was not widely utilized during these years.

In the years immediately following the repeal of Prohibition, very little quality wine was produced in the Napa Valley. Although some Rutherford Wineries, most notably Inglenook, continued to make great wines, the vast majority of California wine was either very alcoholic, or undistinguished and cheap.

Thankfully, the embers of exellennce were not entirely extinguished. During this era, Andre Tchelistcheff made massive breakthroughs in the science of qaulity wines at BV Winery.

Originally from Russia, Tchelistcheff realized that unsanitary practices were adversely affecting wine production. He was extremely influential, and did much to increase interest in high quality wine from Napa Valley Wineries.

Tchelistcheff's innovations helped to bring on a renaissance in high-quality wine making in the Napa Valley. In 1961, Joseph heitz opened the first Post-Prohibition Napa Valley Winery.

Five years later, Robert Mondavi split from his family at Charles Krug and started his own winery in Oakville. Many other Napa Valley Wineries were established in the following years with the philosophy of making high-quality wines.

The area increasingly became a tourist destination, and people from all over the world became interested in visiting the rising star of the California Wine Industry.


Benjamin Bicais lives in the Napa Valley and is the webmaster of