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by Fred McMillin
Field Trip Hot Tip...
Visit the Ghosts of Napa
Ghost Wineries of Napa Valley
Nouveau Medoc Vineyards and the Howell Mountain Winery—Some 120 years ago French emigres Adolphe Brun and Jean Chaix built two wineries. Today the "Medoc" is gone, but the three-story stone cellar on the mountain still stands. It had created quite a stir initially; the Oct. 15, 1886 St. Helena Star reporting that "Brun and Chais...completed the erection of the most convenient and commodious wine cellars in the Country with storage up to 150,000 gallons." Appropriately, the building is back in French hands...those of Francois and Francoise DeWarin-Woltner. Their Chateau Woltner Howell Mountain Chardonnays have done very well in my tastings.
The Uncle Sam Winery, C. Carpy Winery, and several others would load Napa wines in barrels for shipment by sail or steamer to San Francisco, and on to the East Coast. One of those great riverfront cellars survived, the Carpy, a brick structure between Brown and Main Streets in Napa. Also, one of those shipping companies has survived, though its 1890 warehouse hasn't, the Napa Wine Company, described in the November 5, 1999 WineDay. That article has an interesting postscript: That Nouveau Medoc winery became the Napa Wine Company. Today their Cab is a big winner.
Another tour tip: South of St. Helena near Zinfandel Lane is the ghost of the 1880s Norton winery. Near the wooden cellar is the site of the 1872 Oak Grove Winery. It was built by New Jersey-born James McCord, known for the boots he made for Sonoma's outstanding vintner, General Mariano Vallejo, author of California's constitution. Heublein makes M.G. Vallejo wines; the last Vallejo we tasted was a good-buy Pinot Noir.
Other historic structures that still stand can be seen at such familiar wineries as:
Clos du Val Flora Springs Beringer Markham Charles Krug Sterling Vineyards Schramsberg Round Hill and MANY more.
Ms. Haynes compact (95 pages) book divides the Napa Valley into nine districts, and provides a map and carefully-identified photographs of each group of ghosts. Great trip companion.
Getting a Copy
If the Wine Appreciation Guild can't help you at (650) 866-3020, try your favorite used book shop, or call my book sleuth, Gail Unzelman, (707)546-1184 My copy was under $10.
Postscript —A Shocking Report
One last tidbit. On Highway 29 you can see the massive stone cellar of the Far Niente (doing nothing) Winery, built over a century ago by S.F. realtor, Capt. John Benson. In 1903 he pulled a real shocker...he had a water-driven generator installed, making his wine cellar one of the first in the Napa Valley to have electric lights.
This page created May 2000