The History Of Napa Valley

Napa Valley has acquired an international fame that probably would not have been expected if you had just looked at the surroundings centuries ago. The environment is pleasant, to be sure, but you would have to be an experienced wine grower to have seen the immense potential that this valley had for the wine industry. It took a long time for growers to turn this potential and vision into a reality but it has all come true.

Human settlement goes back some time in this area. The Patwin Native Americans ranged the valley and fed themselves with its generous amounts of acorns, buckeyes and wild game. They lived near its beautiful streams and could go without clothing during the mild summer heat.

This summer heat was an important feature that the earliest inhabitants may have only appreciated for its convenience. However, combined with the relatively mild rainfall and the gravelly soil, this made the valley a potentially rich region for wine growth someday. Wine grapes of all kinds tend to grow best in this sort of environment.

The Spanish established a small fort nearby in 1776. However, they did not get around to settling the area until the early 19th century. Agricultural was, of course, a natural interest if the local inhabitants but wine was not a particular focus among the agricultural efforts in the area.

Under the Mexican government of that time, several ranches were established. At the time, enough wine was grown to serve the sacramental needs of the local inhabitants as well as their normal daily desires for this beverage.

WineIt was not until after the US annexation of the area and the discovery of gold in California that wine really gained a significant following in the Napa Valley. The first commercial winery in Napa opened in 1859. The owner was John Pratchett. One of his workers, Charles Krug, founded a second winery in 1861. This second winery still exists today and is open for business.

These events coincided with many others that were significant for the region. In 1858, a local silver rush began and drew many young miners into the valley. Various spas and hot springs were discovered and developed throughout this time as well. These would turn out to be wonderfully placed for many of the future vineyards and wineries that would depend on tourism in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The end of the 19th century witnessed the establishment of more than 100 wineries in the Napa Valley. It was the beginning of the 20th century, though, when wine grapes really became important parts of the local agricultural efforts. Planters put in hundreds of thousands of fruit trees and developed the natural acorn trees that were already present. Some of these fruits are used in conjunction with the local grapes to make excellent fruit wines.

The nascent wine industry was dealt a severe setback by Prohibition in the 1920s. This led to the shut down of many wineries and vineyards. This blow was worsened by the phylloxera infestation. These root lice severally damaged many vines and caused a lot of them to shut down.

The growth of the wine industry was essentially stalled by these events and this stagnation was only minimally improved by the repeal of Prohibition in the 1930s. The depression that followed did not help the local growers to kick-start their industry.

In the 1940s, wine growers finally got organized and began to focus their efforts on making Napa Valley one of the most respected locations for vineyards in the world. Their initial advances were modest.

CaliforniaCalifornia wine naturally gained popularity around the US during the next few decades. However, when anyone thought of wine, he or she naturally turned to European regions, such as southern France or Tuscany in Italy, when they wanted an example of excellence.

History really turned a corner for the Napa Valley growers when they brought their wines to the 1976 blind taste test in Bordeaux, France. This city is frequently hailed as one of the finest for producing high quality wines.

The judges were all French. They were presented with six Cabernet Sauvignons and six Chardonnays from California, which were in competition against four red wines from Bordeaux itself and four white wines from Burgundy. The California wines swept the competition and stunned the world, as well as the judges.

Wine Tourism Today

Because of this increased interest, this area has profited in many different ways. The number of wineries has multiplied. There are now over 400 such establishments in the area. This has allowed the region to become much more diverse in its wine grapes and you can now find nearly any kind of wine as your travel the dusty roads between the vineyards.

These dusty roads bring in an additional harvest for the growers every year. Annually over five million tourists arrive and visit selections of wineries and vineyard around the valley. When they are not busy tasting the wines, these tourists are able to enjoy horseback rides and trips to local spas among other activities.

The wineries are home to dozens of white and red wines. Among the most favorite grapes are those used to produce the local Chardonnays, Zinfandels, Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons. With the blind taste test of 1976, nearly four decades in the past, these wines have received recognition as rivals of the oldest and most cherished wines in the world.

Napa Valley continues to bring in tourists and produce some of the world’s finest wines. History has not ended for this section of California. The future is already growing in the dry gravel of its soil and ready to burst forth with every new ray of sunshine.

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