Located north of San Pablo Bay, Napa Valley was first occupied by the Patwin Native Americans, who were disenfranchised after white settlers colonized the region in the 1830s. After California’s admission to the Union in 1850, Napa County became one of the first counties in the state. Today, Napa is best known for its fantastic wineries due to its Mediterranean climate and geography. The first winery, Charles Krug, was founded in 1861, and the Jacob Schram winery soon followed. Winemasters quickly discovered that Southern Napa Valley’s calcium-rich soils are perfect for Pinot Noir grapes, while Northern Napa Valley’s volcanic soil provide excellent conditions for Cabernet grapes. Today, Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for 40% of total wine production in the region! During my visit to Napa Valley in August, I stayed at the Westin Verasa Napa and went to four vineyards: Beringer, Silverado, Frank Family, and Kuleto.
Founded in 1876 by Jacob Beringer, Beringer Vineyards is one of the oldest wineries in Napa Valley. Enticed by the economic opportunities in California, Jacob Beringer sailed from Mainz, Germany to New York, before relocating to Napa Valley in 1976 to purchase 215 acres in St. Helena for $14,50o. From the late 1870s to 1880s, Beringer hired Chinese immigrant workers to construct the winery’s hand-dug caves and cellars. The task was tedious as the workers had to hand-chisel over 1,200 linear feet of tunnel.
Completed in 1884, the Rhine House was constructed after Jacob Beringer’s residence, the Hudson House. Originally, the Hudson House was built in the same location as the Rhine House, but it was relocated North to make space for more development. Today, the Rhine House and Hudson House are listed under the National Register of Historical Places and as a California Historical Landmark. After Jacob passed away in 1915, his two children, Charles and Bertha Beringer, began to operate the winery. Although Prohibition occurred in America between 1920 and 1933, Charles and Bertha were able to operate the winery through a legal loophole that allowed wine to be produced for religious purposes. Therefore, Beringer began to sell sacramental wine to local churches. After Prohibition ended, Beringer opened its doors to the public and began to give public tours. In the 1940’s, Hollywood stars, such as Carole Lombard and Clark Gable, visited the winery.
For over 141 years, Beringer has dedicated itself to being a leader in the wine industry. According to Beringer’s website, they are only winery to have both a red and a white wine named #1 Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator Magazine! Beringer is also a unique winery as it was the first to establish a formal research and sensory evaluation program. Today, Jacob Beringer’s great, great grandson, Mark Beringer, is the Chief Winemaker of the vineyard.
After I toured Beringer, I decided to visit Silverado Vineyards. Founded by Walt Disney’s daughter and son-in-law, Diane and Ron Disney Miller, this winery had its humble beginnings as an 81-acre ranch in Yountville. Today, Silverado farms grapes from six estate vineyards, including Stags Leap, Miller Ranch, Mt. George, Firetree, Vineburg, and Soda Creek. Due to its silty soil and unique microclimate, Silverado Vineyards has the perfect property for Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grapes. Moreover, their property has a beautiful patio, one of the best views in all of Napa Valley, and a great variety of red wines! The property’s long, winding road and historical accents are very charming. Although Silverado is a bit pricey, their wines are worth the cost! Growing up, my dad always served Silverado’s wines at dinner, so this vineyard was a must-visit!
Athough Silverado Vineyards was founded in 1976, the winery quickly gained a reputation for excellence. When I visited, I was able to taste their 2014 Malbec, 2014 Cabernet Franc, 2013 Cabernet Sauv, 2014 GEO Cab Sauv, and 2011 SOLO Cab Sauv. Personally, I loved the GEO Cab Sauv, which had hints of dark plum and peppercorn! According to their website, the word, ‘GEO,’ is Greek for “Earth” and short for “George” as it celebrates the 20th anniversary of Silverado’s first Mount George harvest.
After Silverado Vineyards, I visited Frank Family Farms, which was founded in 1992 by Rich Frank, the former President of Disney Studios. In July 1993, Frank Family opened its doors and began to sell wine out of a small white shack on the property. According to Rich, “Our philosophy is we don’t have customers; we have guests. And the idea is that our guests have a great time.”
Frank Family’s vineyard is gorgeous and the property has a quaint, craftsman style home with picnic benches to sit at with friends or family. Since I visited Frank Family Vineyards during their 25th anniversary, I was able to taste their 2016 Carneros Lewis Vineyard Chardonnay, 2016 Carneros Lewis Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2015 Reserve Zinfandel, and a 2014 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon. Personally, I loved the Carneros Chardonnay – it had wonderful tropical and floral undertones! If you prefer a lengthy, savory finish, you should try the Pinot Noir or the Cabernet Sauvignon!
After Frank Family Vineyards, I visited Kuleto Estate, an off-the-beaten path vineyard located on Sage Canyon Road. In order to get to the vineyard, you have to 1) find the entrance and 2) drive up a long, windy, steep driveway. The property has beautiful, Tuscan-like views and a rustic feel. If you go, I’d recommend packing a picnic lunch and a blanket to sit on the grass and admire the spectacular view of Lake Hennessey and Napa County National Park! During the summer, visitors are free to go boating and fishing on the lake. Keep in mind that Kuleto requires reservations, so make sure to book in advance!
Kuleto Estate is unique as they only produce small quantities of wine from their grown grapes. In fact, most wines are only produced in amounts that are 300 hundred cases or less. According to their website, Kuleto’s “mountaintop estate features 82 individual vineyard blocks, three distinctive soil types, and a range of elevations and exposures.” When I visited, I tasted their 2014 Sangiovese, 2015 Syrah, 2011 Villa Vista, and 2011 El Coyote. Personally, I loved the Sangiovese – it was barrel aged for 18 months and mixed with Syrah and Zinfandel grapes. If you enjoy what you taste on-site, you can ship any quantity of wine for a flat rate of $1!
I had an amazing time in Napa Valley. The region not only features amazing vineyards, but also has a unique history – Napa has contained a flourishing wine industry since the 19th century! If you go, I’d definitely take the time to learn about the history of the wineries you visit.
If you have been or want to go to Napa Valley, let me know what you think of the region in the comments below!
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