by Fred McMillin
for April 28, 1999

 

The Rise of Napa


Prologue

"The year 1889 was certainly the capstone to the Napa Valley's efforts to reach the front rank of wine producing regions in California. No doubt the honor could be extended to cover the entire United States, as well. There simply was no other region which would receive so much attention thereafter."

...William F. Heintz, Wine Country


The Rest of the Story

So what happened in 1889? It seems that until then, France had never allowed U.S. wines to be entered in their competitions. But that year they accepted those wines at the Paris World's Fair. Prof. George Husmann, one of America's top wine educators, collected the California wines to be sent to Paris. of all things, Sonoma didn't show much interest. Husmann wrote:

    I was treated like a beggar asking for alms. From Sonoma County I could get but five or six exhibits. I got none from the southern part of the state, though I spent several weeks there trying to wake them up. Nearly all of the exhibits came from Napa County.

...from the Napa Register Newspaper


The Breakthrough in Paris

At the Fair California won thirty medals; Napa labels were on twenty of them! Napa County was the new darling of wine-conscious Americans.

David Schlottman One of the medalists was a German immigrant who started in California as the winemaker-foreman for the Napa Valley's first winery (that of Charles Krug, also born in Germany). The winemaker's name was Jacob Beringer. He moonlighted on building his own winery a little north of Krug's at St. Helena, where they both stand to this day. Krug was the better public relations man, but Jacob was the better viticulturist. Some of his achievements: He used six-foot stakes for his vines, the added elevation reducing frost damage. He was a leader in changing to native American rootstock to stop the root-destroying insect, phylloxera. And, he built his winery on a hillside, so once the grapes were brought to the top by horse-drawn cart, the juice/wine thereafter flowed to each new stage by gravity. (Pumping wine can introduce air and reduce quality.)

Hence, today's wine is a modern Beringer...guided by a winemaker who, like Jacob, commands a lot of respect from his peers. In fact, not long ago he was named Winemaker of the Year by The Quarterly Review of Wines. His name is David Scholttman, (pictured). My panel checked his $9 Napa Ridge (Beringer second label) '96 Chardonnay, and gave it a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED IN ITS PRICE RANGE. Prof. Husmann would have had no trouble waking David up!


Postscript

Note: "Central Coast Boast," in 5/26/98 WineDay has more on this.
Credits: William Heintz's Wine Country; Research Assistant-Diane Bulzomi.

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 

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