40 years ago, this was still home to the offspring of immigrants and farmers who loved wine, terrific food, and lush land. You could still see the stagecoach stops along the meandering 35-mile stretch of road from the south to the north valley.
Grapes were first planted here in the 1838 and in 1890 there were 140 family wineries. Prohibition and the Depression, along with some bad farming luck, reduced the number of vineyards to 30 by the 1960s. (This was also an area of olive trees. The old olive stands are glorious and still produce gracious oils.)
The sleepy Napa Valley did a quick turn-about in 1976. That year a blind wine tasting was held in Paris. Napa wines, reds and whites, walked off with the top honors. The old family wineries prospered. New businesses and families planted vineyards and built wineries.
Today, most of the smaller vineyards are at the north end of the valley around Calistoga, and they weave off the Silverado Trail. The opulent, magnificent wineries are mostly in the south valley; they are truly astonishing. And, the world seems to be in agreement on this: Napa Valley’s wine and food just keeps getting better, more experimental, and surprising.