Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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Napa, small city north of San Francisco in california that gives its name to Napa county and, California’s most famous wine region and an ava, the Napa Valley. Although Napa was one of the last of California’s coastal counties to receive the vine, the Napa Valley has earned the state’s wine most of its fame both inside and outside the united states in the 20th and 21st centuries. In America if not the wine world, ‘the Valley’ is Napa Valley. Natural beauty and proximity to San Francisco have attracted, not just willing investors, but owners and winemakers with aggressive desires to make names for themselves in this cultured pursuit. The first generation of them began the climb to prominence between 1880 and 1919. The third spurred Napa out in front of the pack during the boom times between 1966 and the early 1990s. The fourth has at times threatened to turn Napa into a parody of conspicuous consumption. But it was an undervalued interim group that kept the flame alive through the lean years between 1933 and 1966, when California wine was at its ebb. Six companies, Beaulieu Vineyard, Beringer Vineyards, the Christian Brothers, Inglenook Vineyards, Charles krug, and Louis M. Martini, pursued fine wine under their own labels when most districts sold commodity products in bulk (see california, history). Their vineyards provided half the model that attracted the dizzying investments of the 1970s and 1980s, when vineyard acreage tripled and the number of Napa wineries shot from fewer than 20 to more than 200. The other half of the attraction model was provided by the original ‘boutique wineries’ Mayacamas and Stony Hill, which had sprung up from this fertile ground in the late 1950s. The oldtimers inspired such prominent wineries as the Robert mondavi winery, Trefethen, Freemark Abbey, Chateau Montelena, and Sterling Vineyards, while the small artisan model begat smaller operations such as Heitz, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Diamond Creek, Caymus, and Schramsberg.