Wine Country Information
Extends 30 miles from San Pablo Bay in the south to Mat St Helena (4349ft) in the north. Ranges from 1 to 5 miles wide. The temperature can vary 10-12 degrees from one end of the valley to the other (warmer in the north).
Today there are 32,000 acres in Napa Valley. Diverse soil conditions, variety of microclimates create ideal growing conditions. State of the art technology and leading edge agricultural and winemaking techniques are imported from the research at the famed School of Enology in the University of California at Davis.
Until 1823 inhabited by Wappo Indians. The first settler was George Yount in 1831. He was given a land grant by General Vallejo and built the first structure in 1836. He also planted the first vines (Mission Variety) at this time much of Napa was wild oats and populated by dear and bears. Many of the gold miners came to the area after the Gold Rush. In 1858 a German, Charles Krug started using the fist German grapes.
The Silverado in 1874 and 1875 was the largest silver mine in Napa. Quicksilver or cinnabar was discovered in 1860. It was used to recover gold or silver from ore, and in the production of paint and explosives. Napa was one of the countries largest producers of cinnabar from 1864 to 1903.
There was a large increase in winemaking in the 1880’s and 1890’s Greystone Cellars was built in 1889 (Now Culinary Institute). Inglenook (Niebaum Coppola) was also built at this time.
Two events almost wiped out the wineries:
Phylloxera: microscopic aphid decimated 3000 acres by 1900. In 1875 it was realized that European wines could be grafted onto Mission grape stumps to create a disease resistant vine.
Prohibition: By the time it was repealed in 1933 Napa was mostly orchards. Acreage did not reach 1880 levels until 1960’s. The Beringer, Beaulieu and Inglenook wineries all survived. 60 wineries were started after prohibition. Only three of those have survived – Christian Brothers, Louis Martini family and Mondavi family (Charles Krug’s old winery)
Wartime brought new residents to Napa with the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Napa was again ‘the’ winemaking region by 1963. In 1975 there were 50 wineries – today over 200. There is a trend to smaller, specialized wineries.
By the 70’s the best Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay were competing with reds of Bordeaux and whites of Burgundy. 1976 for first time French and California wines went head to head in a blind tasting in France. California won.
Sonoma is 1608 square miles. The valley begins at the Edge of Santa Rose and extends 17 miles south to San Pablo Bay. The valley is 7 miles wide and has the Mayacamas mountains to the East and the Sonoma Mountains to the west. The ‘Mediterranean’ climate with warn, dry summers and mild winters make it perfect for grapes. The valley is far cooler in the south and is home to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Along the hillsides and further north is Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Local restaurants serve wines only in the distinctive blue stemmed wine glasses, which have become a distinguishing symbol for Sonoma. Sonoma Valley also inspired Jack London’s ‘Valley of the Moon”. He spent his final years here on his Beauty Ranch in Glen Ellen.
Sonoma has been home to Wappo, Pomo and Miwok Indians. Seven flags have flown over Sonoma – Spain, England, Imperial Russia, Mexico, Bear Flag and USA. As early as 1812, Russian colonists planted and cultivated grapes at Ft. Ross on the Coast. The Russians sold out to John Sutter in 1841. But it was the Spanish Franciscan Fathers who laid the foundation for our wine industry in 1823 when Padre Jose Altimera planted several thousand grape vines at their northernmost mission, San Francisco Solano in Sonoma. In 1834, political upheaval brought an appropriation of all missions by the Mexican government. During this period of disarray, cuttings from the Sonoma Mission vineyards were carried throughout the northern California area to start new vineyards.
By the time of the "Bear Flag Revolt" (where rebels surrounded General Vallejo’s residence and seized him and his family) and the subsequent annexation of California by the United States in 1854, the vineyards of General Mariano Vallejo, the military Governor of Mexican California, were producing an annual income of $20,000. The Bear flag flew for around a month until John Sloat arrived and raised the Stars and Stripes in July 1846.
Other areas in the county were developing at this time: Rocky Mountain trapper Cyrus Alexander in northern Sonoma first planted grapes in what would become Alexander Valley; the county's first "feminine vineyardist ", Senora Maria de Carrillo, had 2,000 vines in what would be Santa Rosa; Captain Nicholas Carrigan, probably the first American settler, had vineyards in the Valley of the Moon, and later in 1852, his neighbor William Hill, planted the first non mission grapes in the county.
In 1855 the Hungarian Count Agoston Haraszthy, considered "The Father of California Wine Industry” purchased the Salvador Vallejo vineyard in Sonoma Valley, renamed it Buena Vista, and soon was producing fine wines from the vineyard. In 1861 he was commissioned, but never paid, by the California legislature to study viticulture in Europe. He returned to Sonoma County the following year with over 100,000 cuttings of prized grape varietals from France, Italy and Spain. Haraszthy is credited with first promoting the concept that fine table wines could be produced in Sonoma County as well as Europe.
By the 1880’s there were 166 wineries and 18,000 acres of vineyards in Napa and Sonoma Today, in Sonoma County approximately 132,000 tons of grapes are produced on nearly 36,000 acres of vineyards. There are over 150 wineries, over half less than 20 years old. And, as it was over 150 years ago, small family owned wineries continue to exist comfortably alongside larger entities, each producing premium wine in their own unique style.
Appellations are distinctive geographic areas designated by the Federal Government. They are characterized by specific topography, soil and climate. A wine make can use the name of the appellation if at least 85% of the grapes are from the area.
Wine is influenced by vine type, soil, climate, and the winemaker. A few hundred vine types exist. Most California wines are made from a dozen. Varietals give the consumer an idea of what to expect. The wine needs at least 75% of the varietal to use the name on the bottle. Most premium wines use a specific name – most generic blends do not.
White Wine Grapes
Red Wine Grapes
Use red grapes – only pick up a tinge of color from the skins before separated from the juice.
”Methode Champenoise” process uses under-ripe grapes (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay) and made into still wine. A second addition of yeast causes fermentation (for 4-8 weeks) and carbon dioxide, the by-product is trapped in bubbles.
Grapes are harvested as soon as the grapes are ripe. The most common measure is the amount of sugar. 98% of grapes are picked by hand. The harvest is called the vintage.
At the winery, the crusher removes the stems. The crushed grapes and their juice are called ‘must’. The length of contact between the juice and skin influences the color and taste.
The fermentation converts the sugar into alcohol. Some yeast grows naturally on the grape skin. In Europe most winemakers allow this yeast to ferment. In the USA most add yeast. The fermentation turns the glucose and fructose (sugars) into ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide (released as bubbles) Fermentation also releases heat. Wineries refrigerate the wine to keep the temperature constant. (White wine at 59F for 12-18 days and Red at 86F for 4-6 days) Most reds go through a second (malolactic fermentation) which lowers the acid content by converting malic acid into lactic acid.
The wine is cloudy after fermentation. The wine is filtered, allowed to settle or separated by a centrifuge. It may be further clarified or ‘fined’
Ageing is in stainless steel tanks for 1 week to 2 months (White) or oak or redwood barrels for up to 2 years (Red). The size of barrel, age of wood, storage temperature, humidity and length of time all influence the ageing process.
Wine is bottled after aging. It continues to age in the bottle.
Port and Sherry are made by adding brandy to fermenting must.
Half Bottle 375ml
Magnum 1.5 l
Double Magnum 3 l
Jeroboam 3 l
Imperial 6 l
Methuselah 6 l
Salmanazar 9 l
Balthazar 12 l
Nebuchadnezzar 15 l
Winter: Pruned vines lie dormant. Cellars rack the newly fermented wine from the last harvest and bottle wine from previous vintages.
Spring: Wildflowers carpet the valley. Late spring frosts pose a danger to the vines- the wineries use smelter pots and ventilation fans to counter it.
Summer: Late summer growers are checking grapes for sugar content to pinpoint the right moment to harvest. Crush starts in Mid September (earlier in the south for Chardonnay used for Champagne) and lasts around a month.
Glass should be only ¼ full to allow the wine to properly mix with air and release its aromas. Note the clarity and color. Pick up the stem and hold it up to the light. Swirl the glass to smell the aroma.