The Wine History of Napa Valley

Written by Phin Upham

Napa was always able to grow wild grapes, but George Calvert Yount was able to see the region’s potential for wine grape growing. Yount built a homestead there and became one of the first settlers to harvest graped in the Napa Valley in 1839.

By the year of 1889, more than 140 wineries had begun operations in the Napa Valley. The growth was explosive, hampered only by a few road blocks in the early 20th century. The price of grapes declined as a flood of grapes hit the market. This was coupled with a devastating form of root louse that killed off almost 80% of the crops of these early wine makers.

Then came prohibition in 1920, which forced the entire wine making industry into a period of obsolescence. Most vineyards were abandoned when prohibition hit, but the few wineries that remained open managed to do so because they switched grape production.

In 1933, after Prohibition was repealed, the industry began a steady but slow recovery to its pre-Prohibition levels and beyond. Beaulieu Vineyards was established during this time, and continues to be one of Napa’s most highly trafficked wineries. Soon, vintners were signing partnerships and working together. This brought higher profits to the region, and was the foundation of the Napa Valley Vintners trade association.

The Paris tasting of 1976 was the event most credited with “putting Napa on the map.” This was a blind tasting, where California wines were pitted against wines from France. Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon were both awarded top honors in the competition, cementing California’s place in wine culture.

Phin Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website