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Napa Valley’s 1881 Wine Museum and Oakville Wine Merchant
Enjoy Sampling Wine from Famous Napa Regions….and a Brief Napa Valley History
A trip to Napa Valley is not complete without visiting the 1881 Napa Wine History Museum and Oakville Wine Merchant. The museum and wine merchant is housed in a 150-year-old Victorian House located next to the also historic Oakville Grocery, founded 1881, and was purchased and created in 2019 by Jean-Charles Boisset, proprietor of the Boisset Collection.
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See my Interview with Jean-Charles Boisset below about his childhood “AH-HA” in wine, “Jean-Charles Boisset: Burgundy, Sonoma, and Napa Valley’s Flamboyant Wine Ambassador.” Wine Recommendations from the Boisset Collection, including those made specifically for the 1881 museum, are below.
While touring the 1881 Museum’s early Napa pioneer relic collection and impressive maps, enjoy tasting small samples of over 50 wines loaded in 12 technology wine stations. Each station features wines from a significant Napa sub-appellation or AVA (American Viticultural Area). I fondly remember tasting wines in Napa Valley in the 1990’s while munching on cheese and bread from the original Oakville Grocery. I am happy to say that the Oakville Wine Merchant offers both on site and grab-and-go food selections today.
A Brief History of Napa Valley
To put the museum in perspective, I’ve outlined a few brief historic moments in Napa Valley history to explore.
*Early 1700’s, Franciscan missions made sacramental wines using the Misión grape.
*1829 Zinfandel, imported from the Imperial Nursery, Vienna, Austria, starts to replace the Misión grape, and is field-blended with hardy grapes like Petit Sirah.
* 1838, the 1st commercial vineyard founded by George Calvert Yount. Yountville named for him.
* 1857, Agoston Haraszthy founder Buena Vista Winery, still the oldest operating winery in California (today owned by Jean-Charles Boisset). Charles Krug (11861), Schramsberg (1862), Beringer (1876) and Inglenook (1879) were to follow.
* 1860’s, the Gold Rush, after which prospectors turned to farming and grape growing with people visiting Napa Valley to drink wine.
* 1860’s-1880, the Chinese labor contribution to the valley in building railroads, roads, and wine cellars then led to their immigration being banned by the Exclusion Act of 1882.
*1890, the scourge of Phylloxera, the insect/louse devastated both European and US vineyards.
*1920-1933, Prohibition collapsed America’s wine culture. Only sacramental wines and non-prescription “tonics” were made. Ghost wineries were found everywhere.
* 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s Post-Prohibition Pioneers aid Napa Valley’s assent. André Tchelistcheff, the “father of Napa Valley Winemaking,” was hired in 1937 by Beaulieu Vineyards (BV), owned by Georges de Latour who was making sacramental wine for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. André had been educated at the Institut Pasteur and Institut National Agronomique, in France, where he studied enology and microbiology, bringing his technical and sanitation standards to Napa Valley. More pioneers like Cesare Mondavi, Louis Martini, the Beringer’s Roy Raymond, and Hans Kornell began making wine.
* 1960’s- Powerhouse Vintners with business backgrounds purchase wineries. Jack Davies (Schramsberg), John Shafer, Donn Chappellet, and Eugene Trefethen bring business savvy to Napa Valley.
* End of the 1960’s, the Napa Valley Ag Preserve is designated to bring the “highest and best use of Napa Valley,” preventing 6-lane highways and strip malls from being constructed.
* 1970’s- Infusion of new vintners with business savvy occurred. Jim Barrett, lawyer, at Chateau Montelena; Dan Duckhorn, banker; Jack Cakebread, photographer protégé of Ansel Adams; all came to Napa. French luxury company Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH) bought Napa Valley land, forming Domaine Chandon.
*1976 The Paris Wine Tasting – Chateau Montelena and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars won the Judgement of Paris (Time Magazine June 7, 1976), besting the French Bordeaux, Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château Haut-Brion, and Domain Roulot Meursault-Charmes to put Napa Valley on the International wine map.
*1978, Wine Critic, Robert Parker, Wine Advocate discovers Napa Valley.
*1980 Napa Valley becomes an AVA.
*UC Davis, and its DNA research spawn many famous university-trained winemakers like Celia Welch (ultra-premium, consulting winemaker Scarecrow, Corra Wines, Lindstrom) and Merry Edwards.
*2010-?, the Technology Future of Napa Valley includes the use of vineyard mapping with sensors, drones, organic, biodynamic, and sustainable growing methods.
* 2020, Glass Fire and Climate Change push wineries to examine warming effects, water usage, premature ripening, and grape variety decisions.
Many thanks to the Oakville Wine Merchant for Karen MacNeil’s thoughtful booklet, “A Short History of the Napa Valley.”
If You Go
Oakville Wine Merchant, 7856 St. Helena Highway, Oakville, CA 707.944.8802
Wine Recommendations from the Boisset Collection
Wine Advocate, 95+ Points.
Sure lie aged 11 months, 58% new French Oak.
Region: The Côte de Beaune and Côte Chalonnaise, Burgundy.
Wine Spectator, 92 Points.
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