by Tamra Bolton
Beginning with wild grapes, the Napa Valley has always had a penchant for growing the flavorful fruit, even before George Calvert Yount homesteaded there in the 1830’s. He was the first to plant Napa Valley grapes and was soon followed by pioneers John Patchett and Hamilton Walker Crabbe.
Although Napa’s first commercial winery was not established until 1861, this verdant area of California was already known for the successful cultivation of the vitis vinifera grapes.
In the eight years from 1861 to 1869, more than 140 wineries sprung up across the region.
The beginning of the 20th century was not kind to Napa Valley. Due to the surplus of grapes, the prices fell drastically and many vintners were put out of business. Then, the arrival of the destructive root louse, phylloxera, dealt a decimating blow to more than 80% of Napa Valley’s vineyard acreage. All of this, on top of Prohibition, enacted in 1920, left the Valley’s wine industry in shambles.
Then, in 1933, with the repeal of Prohibition, Napa’s vineyards and the wine industry began the slow process of recovery. Napa Valley may not have produced any California gold, but the riches of the vineyards have proved to be much longer lasting and a renewable resource. Several winemakers and their vineyards are legendary: John Daniel, Jr. with Inglenook, Louis M. Martini, the Mondavi family and Georges de Latour of Beaulieu Vineyards. And, who can forget the lasting contributions of the revered Beaulieu Vineyard wine genius Andre Tchelischeff?
From a coalition of only seven vintners in 1944, Napa Valley today boasts more than 525 wineries. Today, winemakers are calling the 2015 grape harvest one for the history books. As one of the earliest harvests ever, 2015 grapes are being lauded as “high quality with intense concentration of flavors”. In spite of the yields being far lower than expected, the promise of an excellent vintage for 2015 makes the low yields frustrating, but bearable.
After the summer of wildfires, many people were concerned whether the grape harvest would be affected by the smoke. However, Napa Valley, with its prevailing southwestern winds, managed to escape the smoke for the most part. Sadly, other regions were not so fortunate.
Today, the “luck or blessing or good fortune”, whatever you want to call it, seems to still be hovering over this fertile region called Napa Valley. With its rich history and storybook setting, Napa remains one of the top destinations for wine lovers everywhere.
Plan a visit soon!