The Napa Valley, located two hours drive from San Francisco, is the most popular wine region in the United States. Its vineyards, with over 90% of national production, have allowed the United States to become the fourth largest wine producer, behind France, Italy and Spain.
It was at the beginning of the sixteenth century that the Spanish troops, colonizing much of eastern South America, began to plant and work the vine. In 1769, the Kingdom of Spain sent Franciscan monks to set up missions on the west coast, hoping to convert the local Indian communities. A little later, in 1779, Father Junípero Serra planted the first variety of grapes called “Mission” in the city of Mission San Diego, south of Los Angeles, so named for its descent from Sardinian wines, brought to North America by the Conquistadores.
Around 1830, Jean-Louis Vignes decided to import some plants of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc and was the first to vinify in barrique with the wood coming from the forest of Monte San Bernardino. Shortly thereafter, he opened the first California commercial winery, marketing his wines in Santa Barbara but also Monterey and San Francisco.
The birth of Napa Valley as a wine area is often associated with the figure of George Calvert Yount, who had the merit of having planted the first vines of the “Mission” variety. However, it was John Patchett, who created the first vineyard and gave life to the first official winery in the Napa Valley.
The European varieties, however, made their real appearance in that region, thanks to the Hungarian count Agoston Haraszthy, pioneer winemaker in Wisconsin and California, often called “the father of Californian viticulture” or the “father of modern winemaking in California”. He was one of the first men to plant vineyards in Wisconsin, was the founder of the Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma in 1857, California, and one of the first writers of wine and viticulture in California.
In 1861, the first commercial winery of Napa Valley was born by Charles Krug, followed in 1862 by Schramsberg, in 1876 Beringer, Inglenook in 1879 and Beaulieu Vineyards in 1900.
The development of the Napa Valley was rapid and concrete: in the course of just twenty years, more than 160 companies dedicated to the cultivation of vines and the production of wine could be counted in this area.
The shutdown period
This great expansion was blocked by the arrival of the phylloxera in 1873 which decimated most of the vineyards.
However, it was not the only factor that marked a sharp stop in viticulture and wine production in the Napa Valley.
When the first signs of recovery were noticed, a new blow overwhelmed the wine producers. Prohibitionism, with the prohibition of production, transport and sale of any alcoholic beverage, marked the end of hundreds of cellars, leaving the field free for home and clandestine production. Subsequently, the economic crisis of 1929 and the Second World War continued to weigh on the production capacity of California.
The revival of the wine industry
Tangible signs of recovery were recorded in the 1960s, when Joe Heitz founded – in 1961 – the “Heitz Wine Cellars”, in 1966 the Davies family resumed the activity of Schramsberg, and in the same year Robert Mondavi left the family business, the Charles Krug Winery, founding its own cellar.
In 1969, his “Cab” won first place as the best California wine. This fact persuaded many farmers to return, re-launching wine production.
Ten years later, a famous event marked the beginning of the international fame of California wines forever.
During the world-renewed “blind” tasting of Paris in 1976, lead by 11 experts including 9 French, the Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 1973 won the first place as the best red before a Château Mouton-Rothschild and the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 1973, was the best white before a Meursault.
In the following years many wineries were founded throughout the Napa Valley, up to the present day to about 200 companies that produce wine from grapes grown in vineyards over an area of over 13,700 hectares.
In addition to the variety Zinfandel, a grape of ancient tradition, now considered a native American grape, the viticulture of Napa Valley includes international grapes of French origin. Among the white grape varieties we find the Chardonnay which prevails over the others, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Sémillon and Gewürztraminer. For the red varieties we find the Cabernet Sauvignon and other minorities such as Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah.
We have selected for you the best Napa Valley vintages from the most important producers of the region.
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