What Is It About Napa Valley Wine?

When you taste wine, it might occur to you that the excellence of this wine is almost miraculous. If you know anything about the history of wine, it is natural to be astounded that such fine wine could come from such a previously unheralded region of the world.

Wine making dates back to the ancient world, with famous centers in places such as Greece and Italy. Even France, the once-undisputed master of wine making, was a relatively recent entrant into this business. Yet Napa wine has come, in a short time, to hold its own among these other famous regions of the world.

History of the Napa Valley

This was obviously a pleasant place to the original inhabitants, who were various Native American tribes. They ate of the acorns, roots and small game found in the area. The summers were mild and allowed them to go unshod and naked much of the time.

The Spanish also thought the place to be congenial to inhabitation. However, they and their Mexican successors only raised enough wine to meet their daily needs and to fulfill sacramental requirements. The first commercial winery did not appear in Napa until 1859, well after the American takeover of California after the Mexican-American War in the 1840s.

At first, the wine of Napa valley was not considered especially interesting. Unknown to the world but obvious to the vintners, the soil and climate were ideal for growing wine. The rocky soil was dry but occasionally moistened by the regions relatively low rainfall. Wine grapes grow beautifully in such surroundings.

In addition, the area is home to many micro climates that share specific characteristics. These localized variations allow many separate regions to grow varieties of wine, though they are not as separated physically as the diverse regions of Europe.

Though the local growers tried to make their products known, they were set back again and again. In the 1920s, the business suffered notably under the Prohibition laws which dealt such a heavy blow to all vintners and brewers around the country. To add salt to the vintners’ wounds, the phylloxera louse infested the vines of the valley and destroyed many of the vines. Then came the Great Depression of the 1930’s. As a result, many wineries went out of business.

The valley began another slow climb out of obscurity. The growers organized in the 1940s and the wines gained national attention. However, on the international stage, they were still essentially unknown.

Then came the blind taste test in Bordeaux, France in 1976. A panel of French judges, certain that their wines would win the contest hands down, tasted many anonymous wines from around the world. The audience members in the know were shocked as the judges commented voluminously and shrugged off the local wines. The Californian wines won all the contests. The Napa name was revealed to the world.

The Vineyards and Wineries

There are many vineyards throughout the valley, though it is but 30 miles in length and just a few miles wide. The various micro climates present even in this small piece of land allow these vineyards to produce a great variety of wines. Each winery is usually able to present more than one specialty to the public.


The products of this vineyard are held to be almost sacred by the virtual cult of fans that follow this wine. Their most famous wine is the Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard has been developed by its present owners since 1990, when they took over the 162-acre property after decades of languish.

Colgin Cellars

Also among the younger and newer set of vineyards in this region, the land around Colgin Cellars was essentially unused since Prohibition when Ann Colgin bought the land. She replanted and began producing wine grapes for the first time in decades in 1997. Her Cabernet Sauvignon has also made recent headlines with its excellence.

Duckhorn Estates

In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, this winery produces a Merlot that has received rave reviews. The owner purchased the estate in the 1970s after touring the wine making regions of France. As recently as 2006, this establishment produced over 20,000 cases of wine. Prices per bottle start at $30 and go as high as $100.

Screaming Eagle

Founded on the land and vines of the old Oakville vineyard in 1986, this vineyard has since planted a wide range of varietals for wine grapes. Eventually, three varietals came to dominate, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. There has been one major renovation since then, when the owners replanted 34 acres in 2006.

Spencer Roloson

This winery steps away from the crowd and focuses on some other varietals, such as Tempranillo, Viognier and Syrah.

The wine in this region continues to astound the world with its variety and with its depth. Each year, millions flock to the dry, dusty roads to wet their palates with some of the great wines produced here.

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