The History of Oakville Grape Growing
The Role of Phylloxera on Oakville’s History of Grape Growing
Crabb was very proactive when phylloxera struck the valley in the 1880s. He was one of the few vintners to successfully convert his vineyards to phylloxera resistant rootstocks. Unfortunately, much of local wine industry was decimated by the pest.
Prohibition destroyed most of Oakville’s remaining vineyards either through eradication or neglect. Most vineyards that remained during Prohibition were converted to thick skinned varietals, like the Flame Tokay, that could survive shipment to the East Coast for home winemaking under the Volstead Act.
Noble varietals were uprooted to make room for this mediocre grape. Large tracts of vineyards were also replanted with prune orchards. This was the Napa Valley’s major agricultural good for the next several decades.
After the repeal of Prohibition, overly alcoholic fortified wines and undistinguished jug wines seemed to be all that the American market would support. The conversion to high quality varietals was a gradual process in Oakville.
In 1950, the tide began to turn when Cesare Mondavi bought most of H.W. Crabb’s old estate. This included the legendary To Kalon Vineyard. A few years earlier, Mondavi purchased Charles Krug Winery. He immediately began to vinify the excellent grapes from To Kalon.
In 1961, Heitz Cellars began producing the critically acclaimed Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. In 1966, Napa Valley’s wine renaissance gained momentum when Robert Mondavi split from his family at Charles Krug and started his own winery in Oakville.
Robert Mondavi’s vision was not only to produce quality wines, although he certainly accomplished this. More broadly, he wanted to transform the Napa Valley into a world class destination for wine lovers. He built his winery from the ground up in a thoroughly innovative fashion. Mondavi put a high priority on developing a welcoming tasting room and offered extensive tours of the winemaking process. Oakville’s wine industry would never be the same.
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