Originally inhabited by Native Americans, Napa Valley was settled by Europeans in the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1848, Nathan Coombs laid out Napa City on land he acquired from Nicholas Higuera, and in 1950, Napa became one of the original counties of California, with Napa City as the county seat.
The wine history of Napa predates its history as a California county. One of the important historical facts about Napa is that George Calvert Yount, for whom Yountville is named, is credited with being the first in the valley to establish a homestead and plant vineyards, which he did in 1836. Yount's fellow wine producers included John Patchett, Hamilton Walker Crabb, and Dr. George Crane.
The early 1850s were an exciting time in Napa Valley history. The gold rush triggered population and industry growth, as pioneers, miners, and entrepreneurs settled in to enjoy warmer Napa Valley weather and the silver and quicksilver mining opportunities. Other major industries at this time in Napa Valley history were cattle ranching, farming, and the lumber industry. The second half of the nineteenth century was a significant time for the history of Napa wine. One of the important facts about Napa wine history is that the first commercial winery was established in 1861, by Charles Krug. The industry grew rapidly—by 1889, more than 140 wineries were in the valley.
In the mid-1880's Calistoga was founded by entrepreneur Samuel Brannan, who recognized the region's mineral hot springs as a selling point for a resort town. In 1864 Brannan founded the Napa Valley Railroad Company; the railroad was later owned by the Southern Pacific Railroad. Robert Louis Stevenson's book The Silverado Squatters helped bring attention to the region, including its spas and hot springs. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the region became a popular tourist destination for San Franciscans and other visitors.
Unfortunately, the second half of the nineteenth century was a more difficult period in Napa Valley history for everyone. Settlers had brought diseases such as smallpox to the region, which proved devastating to the Native American populations. These groups were essentially wiped out, with many dying in a smallpox epidemic of 1838.
The area soon had to contend with two major problems. First, the valley was hit by a pest that killed much of the valley's vineyards. Next came fourteen years of Prohibition. Since alcohol couldn't be sold, winemakers had to find other businesses to operate. After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the wine industry expanded again.
Napa Valley continued to gain notoriety in wine circles in the 50s and 60s, and in the 1970s experienced overnight fame when, in a blind tasting at an international wine competition in Paris, a Napa Valley Cabernet beat out a famous French Bordeaux. This huge upset is surely one of the best-known facts about Napa history.
Castello di Amorosa
Today, Napa Valley has more than 300 wineries, including famous names such as Robert Mondavi, Castello di Amorosa (pictured, left), and family-run operations like Peju, and is known all over the globe as one of the premier wine regions in the world. The history of Napa Valley shows how one small town grew and evolved until it became well known in international circles.