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Monday, March 14, 2016

Napa, that sleepy little farming valley

Anyone who has visited Napa Valley may refer to it by its often-used nickname, "Disneyland for adults." But a sleepy farming area? Not in a place with that much traffic and that many places to drop a few hundred dollars at a time on eating or drinking.

Well, it wasn't that long ago.

Almost a century has passed since Prohibition knocked out a thriving wine industry.  Going back to the mid-1960s the wine industry still had not recovered. There was  Beaulieu, Christian Brothers, Heitz, Inglenook, Charles Krug, Louis Martini, Mayacamas, and Stony Hill. Some of these were the old guard from the 19th century. A couple were post-war start-ups like Heitz and Stony Hill. There were maybe a dozen  wineries you could visit. Now there are over 200 (out of the 450 total wineries in Napa). Very few people outside of the local population knew anything about California wine.

Inglenook Winery, in 1881 and today

So then what happened? Well, Mondavi Winery is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year--that's what happened. Robert Mondavi came in with a vision that wasn't just about the farming and production of wines, but about attracting visitors. He built a big, fancy building and spent lots of time and money talking up Napa wines. Within ten years Napa Valley was off-and-running. By the 1980s Napa Valley -- and Sonoma -- were "boom towns" with wineries springing up everywhere.

Many will point to the Judgement of Paris in 1976 as the key. This helped, but it was the tireless promoting of Robert Mondavi that really put Napa Valley on the map.

Napa as a sleepy little town
Not a wine bar to be found anywhere!