It has taken more than 150 years and a long line
of great leaders to make the Napa Valley what it
is today. Winemaking history in the Napa Valley
began in 1838-39, when George Calvert Yount,
founder of the town of Yountville, planted the
first commercial vineyards in the valley.
Soon after, in 1849 California’s Gold Rush was
on and the population exploded on the west
coast. In the 1860s and ‘70s, Europeans like Ja-
cob Schram, Charles Krug, and Jacob Beringer
arrived in Napa, eager to try their hand at mak-
ing wine to rival the wines from their home-
land. Schram planted Napa County’s first hill-
side vineyard. Most of the wine at that time
was shipped in bulk to San Francisco for sales
and distribution. Charles Krug is credited with
establishing Napa Valley’s first commercial
winery in 1861.
Following the completion of the transcontinen-
tal railroad, many Chinese laborers made their
way to the Bay Area and continued their hard
work on projects like building underground
wine caves in the Napa Valley. By some ac-
counts, field laborers of the 1870s and 1880s
were primarily Chinese making up as much as
70-80% of the workforce at that time.
By 1889, Napa had more than 140 wineries, in-
cluding Schramsberg, Beringer, and Inglenook.
Though never a large volume producer – that
description was more apt for other agricultural
areas of California, like Los Angeles, Almaden-
now Silicon Valley and Livermore, but Napa
was booming.
In the late 1890s phylloxera, tiny sap-sucking
insects which feed on the roots of grapevines
and eventually kills them, hit and nearly deci-
mated all of Napa’s vineyards. Vineyard acre-
age in Napa Valley declined from 15,807 in 1888
to just 2,000 acres by 1900. Times were tough
in the US with a deep recession, followed by
World War. Then an even greater threat to the
wine industry arrived in 1920 with the enact-
ment of Prohibition, which lasted for 13 years.
Following this social experiment came the
Great Depression, another World War that
found most of Napa’s grapevines and wineries
largely abandoned or planted over to plums or
walnuts. The Napa Valley wine industry was in
Despite the setbacks, a few vintners perse-
vered. Credit for the post-World War II rebirth
of the Napa Valley wine industry goes to a
handful of bold and visionary vintners, includ-
ing Georges de Latour, of Beaulieu Vineyard,
who in 1938 recruited Andrê Tchelistcheff, re-
search enologist from France’s Pasteur Insti-
In 1939, John Daniel, Jr., inherited Inglenook,
the Gustave Niebaum estate, and ran the win-
ery for 25 years. Like Beaulieu and Inglenook, a
number of pre-Prohibition wineries came back
to life between the late 1930s and the mid
1960s, but new winery growth was limited to
just a handful, like the establishment of Stony
Hill Vineyard and Heitz Wine Cellars.
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