A Nod to the Innovative Pioneers Who
Brought Napa Valley to Life

In 1839, a man named George Calvert Yount first planted grapes in Napa Valley, recognized today as one of the world’s leading wine-growing regions. Early grape-growing pioneers began establishing their wineries in the local region roughly 20 years later. Just over the hill in Sonoma County, Buena Vista Winery became the first established commercial winery in all of California in 1857. Charles Krug founded the first commercial winery in Napa Valley in 1861. To follow, Beringer Vineyards in 1876 and Inglenook in 1879. Beaulieu Vineyard was established in 1900 and was one of the very few local wineries that remained in production during Prohibition, selling sacramental wine to local churches.

These five wineries paved the way for future winegrowers and undoubtedly elevated Napa Valley as a world-class wine-growing region. They made a lasting impact on the local wine-growing community and the international world of wine. In essence, these founders helped garner the clout and reputation for which Napa wines are known today.

For those interested in learning more about Napa’s founders and the region’s rich and storied history, taking a tour and tasting experience at the following wineries should not be missed:


Buena Vista Winery is California’s first premium winery; it was founded by Agoston Haraszthy in 1857. While the estate resides in Sonoma County, its proximity to and impact on Napa Valley makes it an important piece of the historical puzzle. Haraszthy immigrated from Hungary in 1842 and settled in Sonoma, where he founded Buena Vista Winery as an eccentric farmer, innovator, and vintner. After searching for prime vineyard land across California, he ultimately settled on the ideal terroir in Sonoma. By 1860, Haraszthy had more than 250 acres of planted vines. His trailblazing efforts to grow grapes in Sonoma inspired many of the Napa founders, including Charles Krug, to plant vineyards and make wine in these neighboring counties. // www.buenavistawinery.com


Through innovation and uncompromising quality, the Mondavis have been stewards of Charles Krug Winery for over 75 years and four generations. “Being the oldest commercial winery in Napa, Charles Krug has been an industry leader for wine in the United States. In many ways, Charles Krug has been a catalyst for the growth of wineries in Napa and the entire country,” stated Peter Mondavi Jr., co-proprietor of Charles Krug. The revolutionary cold fermentation technique, which Mondavi, Sr. developed in 1946 for crafting quality white wines, is now an industry standard. And in 1963, the estate became the first Napa Valley winery to integrate imported French oak barrels for aging red wine—shaping the style of Napa Valley reds known and loved today. // www.charleskrug.com


As one of Napa Valley’s most historic estates, Beringer Vineyards has been a benchmark wine producer in the region since its inception. “In 1875, Jacob and Frederick Beringer purchased 215 acres of prime Napa Valley land, establishing Beringer as a key player among the few wineries in operation at that time,” stated Ryan Rech, Winemaker and General Manager of Beringer Vineyards. “Beringer was the first winery to operate with gravity flow methods and the first with hand-dug caves to store the wines at a perfect temperature and humidity year-round,” Rech furthered. As the first winery to give public tours in 1934 and one of the first to offer wine and food education locally, Beringer Vineyards paved the way for locals and tourists alike to enjoy Napa Valley as it is known today. // www.beringer.com


In 1879 Gustave Niebaum, a Finnish man who made his fortune in the States as a San Francisco businessman, purchased the Inglenook property and the adjoining Rohlwing Farm. His dream of building a winery that rivaled the luxurious chateaus of Europe became a reality. In the years to follow, Niebaum purchased several small vineyard parcels across Napa Valley. Chateau construction began in 1881, and Niebaum traveled to France and Germany to procure vine cuttings from the very best nurseries. As a result, he planted some of the first Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in Napa Valley and pioneered denser, European-style planting locally. // www.inglenook.com


It was 1900 when Georges de Latour and his wife Fernande first settled in Napa Valley. They originally purchased a humble four-acre ranch and founded Beaulieu Vineyard to craft wines that would rival the French greats. Indebted to Latour, Napa Valley can thank him for importing pest-resistant vines and European Vitis vinifera grape varieties. He even established a nursery in Paris to grow, graft, and ship these grafted vines to his cohort of California winemakers. These vines are the historical roots of many of the great vineyards in Napa Valley and across California. Latour “also established a relationship with the Catholic church to produce sacramental wine, a move that allowed the winery to keep operating through Prohibition,” said Trevor Durling, winemaker, and general manager at Beaulieu Vineyard. // www.bvwines.com

Story By: Melissa Vogt