Wild grapes used to grow across Napa Valley until George Calvert Yount, a settler in the region, discovered the area’s potential for the cultivation of grapevines. He started by building one of the initial homesteads and was the first person to plant grapes in the modern Napa Valley in the early 19th century. Other pioneers, including Hamilton Walker Crabb and John Patchett, brought the first Vitis vinifera grapes into the Valley.
Most people visit the Valley to enjoy the rich wineries and vineyards without a proper understanding of the wine history in the region. It is through the efforts of the pioneers that the modern Napa Valley wineries and vineyards exist today.
Early expansion and the pioneers
While pioneers like Yount and Crabb brought grapes to Napa Valley, Charles Krug worked towards the induction of the commercial winery in 1861. His effective leadership approach and success as a winery owner influenced the emergence of a wave of new growth.
By the end of the 1880s, Napa Valley had around 140 wineries in full operation. Some of the early wines include Inglenook, established in 1879, Schramsberg, founded in 1862, and Beringer in 1876.
The initial challenges
Napa Valley’s early wineries did not simply flourish without challenges. The initial expansion of the region’s winery was soon cut short. In the early 20th century, the wine industry experienced a price crisis due to the over surplus of grapes. Also the arrival of the dealt vintners causing more than 80% of the vineyards to be destroyed.
In 1920, the wine sector was again affected by the enactment of the prohibition of sales of alcohol in the country. For over one decade, wineries and vineyards were abandoned. Only a few wineries maintaining some operations to produce sacramental wines.
With the lifting of the prohibition in 1933, the wine sector in the Valley started a slow journey of recovery. Wineries, like Inglenook, were resurrected by John Daniel. New ones, such as Beaulieu Vineyard, were established, returning the area to its former glory. Russians from France migrated to Napa Valley to work in the wineries and vineyards. They brought more skills and knowledge to improve the quality of the product.
The last fifty years
Napa Valley’s wine prominence at the global level can be attributed to the efforts put in place by the region’s vintners in the last five decades. Significant players have gone into the history books as the most effective marketers and promoters. They played an essential role in ensuring the overall success of the industry and the sustainability of the quality of Napa wine.
The early tasting events, like the Paris Tasting, which took place in 1976, placed Napa Valley in the limelight within the global market, thus creating room for more market recognition and growth. Some of today’s famous Napa wines were promoted during those tasting events. Therefore, wine tasting is an integral part of the culture in Napa. See more resources here
Napa Valley Vintners. ‘History of Wine in the Napa Valley.’ https://napavintners.com/napa_valley/history.asp#:~:text=Charles%20Krug%20is%20credited%20with,)%20and%20Inglenook%20(1879) [Accessed on1st March 2022)
 Taplin IM, The Napa Valley Wine Industry: The Organization of Excellence, (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2021 Jun 15), p. 24.
Patton, David V, “A history of United States cannabis law,” JL & Health, 34 (2020), 1. https://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/jlah34&div=5&id=&page= [Accessed 1st March 2022].
Edwards, Owen, ‘That Revolutionary May Day in 1976 When California Wines Bested France’s Finest,’ Smithsonian Magazine, May 3rd 2016. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/that-revolutionary-May-day-1976-when-california-wines-bested-france-finest-180958971/ [Accessed on 1st March 2022].