A Brief History of Napa Valley

Some of the world’s most beautiful wineries are in Napa. Napa Valley isn’t just an area of land that popped up one day and immediately started producing stunning wines. This only became possible after extensive expansion, agriculture, and perseverance occurred. Without these elements, Napa Valley would never have developed into the bustling agricultural land that it is now.

Napa’s Start

Wild grapes existed in Napa Valley, long before anyone arrived to try and use them. The settler who has been credited with taming these grapes is George Calvert Yount, a pioneer in the world of wine. He built out the land and began to tame the wild grapes (and plant new cultivars) in 1839. Of course, once other entrepreneurs realized the land was worth something, they followed in his footsteps. This burgeoning competition/community helped the wine industry to grow.

First Winery

The first commercial winery was established by Charles Krug in 1861, but he would certainly not be the last to build one. His actions in making the winery inspired others to do the same, and by the time the 1890s rolled around, more than 140 wineries had been established in the area.

Not Smooth Sailing

Unfortunately, even though wine was becoming a commercial ware in the late 1800s, that didn’t mean it was all fun and games from there. The expansion of the Napa Valley area quickly came to a stop when prices started to plummet from the surplus of grapes. Additionally, 80% of the vineyard’s acreage was destroyed soon after due to root louse. 

On the heels of this loss, 1920 came and brought Prohibition with it, which also served to decrease the desire for wine. During the 13 years of Prohibition, many wineries and vineyards were abandoned.

Prohibition Ends

Luckily, Prohibition ended in 1933, and with it, the desire for additional wine returned. The recovery of the vineyards was slow going… at least until John Daniel Jr. resurrected the famous vineyards of Georges de Latour, Beaulieu Vineyards, and Inglenook. 

From his actions, he is credited as one of the greatest Napa Valley wine mentors of the time.

The Following Years

Following Prohibition and the recovery of the vineyards, Napa Valley turned into one of the world’s leading areas for wine and wine distribution. This is largely due to the actions of vintners over the last 50 years and the actions they took to secure Napa’s foothold on the larger stage.

More specifically, The Paris Tasting of 1976 put Napa Valley on the global stage. This was a blind taste-testing situation where cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay from Napa were pitted against the most famous Bordeaux and Burgundy—and the Californian wines won.

From there, Napa Valley became a prominent figure in wine across the globe.


Napa Valley might be currently known as one of the most famous wine locations, but it wasn’t always that way. Due to the actions of people in the past who toiled the soil, tamed the grapes, and weathered Prohibition, Napa can now produce the wines it’s known for today. Whether you are looking for the most beautiful wineries in Napa, the top wineries in napa, or a full Napa wineries list, there is something for everyone. ELLMAN is a family-owned winery in Napa and is one of the Napa Wineries that is open currently. ELLMAN works with Andy Erickson to create elegant wines to be enjoyed by all types of people - try our wine at one of our Downtown Napa tasting rooms. You can learn more about our story here, or check out our membership options on this page to learn how to get started. 

If you are interested in learning more about the history of Napa Valley, be sure to check out these other blogs below: 

Resource 1 | Resource 2 | Resource 3