How did the world first discover and fall in love with the wines of Napa Valley? One could not dispute that the highest impact event was the 1976 Judgment of Paris where California wines bested their French counterparts in both the Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay categories. Here are five must know facts about Napa Valley’s history leading up to the 1976 Paris tasting that helped catapult it to one of the world’s premier wine regions:
- Charles Krug Winery becomes Napa’s first commercial winery in 1861. Charles Krug immigrated from Germany and in the mid-1800’s became one of Napa’s earliest settlers. He acquired land through marriage and planted an 18-acre vineyard establishing his winery. Charles Krug’s cider press helped to update winemaking practices from crude techniques and it should be noted that many of Napa’s notable winemakers of the day started their careers with Krug. Among the distinguished are Jacob Beringer and Jacob Schram who worked with Krug prior to establishing their own wineries.
- Schramsberg Vineyards was the first winery in Napa Valley to focus on hillside fruit. Jay Schram immigrated from Germany where his family had a winemaking background in Rheinhessen. He grew up with fundamental knowledge that the best vineyards were located on steep slopes. In 1862 he purchased land on Diamond Mountain and established Schramsberg. His hillside wines, still and not sparkling at the time, were among the most popular wines of California.
- To Kalon in Oakville was one of the first vineyards planted to Bordeaux and other French varieties. In 1868 viticulturist, Hamilton Crabb purchased and cultivated Napa Valley’s most historically important vineyard. Crabb replaced the Mission grape with more noble grape varieties. In fact, he planted several hundred different varieties across his Oakville estate. A source of some of the best grapes in Napa, the price of To Kalon fruit today remains the highest in the valley.
- Inglenook was the first winery in Napa to bottle and label its own wines, allowing for more quality control. Gustave Niebaum was a wealthy Finnish sea captain who sought to replicate the grand wine estates he knew from his travels in Europe. Prior to Niebaum’s innovative business practices, wines were sold in casks to brokers who would blend and bottle the wines themselves. In line with his entrepreneurial spirit, he was also one of the first brands to include “Napa Valley” and the vintage on his labels.
- Beaulieu Vineyard holds the distinction of longest continually operating winery in Napa Valley. Established by Georges de Latour in 1900, BV was one of the few wineries that remained open during prohibition due to a relationship with the archdiocese in San Francisco and a loophole in the law of allowing sacramental wine for the Catholic church. Georges de Latour is also responsible for bringing the iconic winemaker, Andre Tchelistcheff to Napa.
The above five must know facts are just the tip of the iceberg on the history of Napa Valley. For example, upon changes in ownership, Charles Krug Winery became the first Mondavi family venture into producing premium wines and Schramsberg established itself as a top U.S. sparkling house served at the White House over multiple decades. Join us in our new Napa Valley Wine Expert online course to learn more and gain your certification as a master of Napa Valley.