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The original inhabitants of the valley were the Wappo. The name Wappo was given by the Spanish and probably derived from the Spanish word "guapo", meaning "handsome." The natives were here at least 4,000 years before the Spaniards arrived. In 1831 there were an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 living in the valley. Most later lost their lives to cholera and smallpox, as well as to attacks by white men. There are still surviving Wappos in Napa, Sonoma and Lake Counties.
The first American settler in the Napa Valley was George Yount. He arrived in 1831, became friends with General Mariano Vallejo, and was given an 11,000-acre Mexican land grant. He built the first wooden structure in the county, a two-story Kentucky blockhouse. He also planted the first grapevines in the Napa Valley. The vines were from Mexico; it was not until 1860 that the higher quality European wine grapes were introduced.
The wealth of post-Gold Rush San Francisco created a huge demand for wine, and by 1891 there were 619 vineyards throughout the valley. The wineries survived economic depression and the disease of phylloxera but were no match for Prohibition, the United States' "Great Experiment" of declaring alcoholic beverages not just immoral but illegal. Prohibition closed almost every Napa Valley winery. The few that survived provided medicinal wine or sacramental wine for churches. Vineyards were ripped out, to be replaced by prune and walnut orchards.
Prohibition ended in 1933, but it was not until 1966 that a large new winery was finally built in the Napa Valley. It was Robert Mondavi in Oakville. Since that time several hundred wineries have been built, as the Napa Valley was rediscovered as a premium wine region, recapturing its earlier pre-Prohibition fame. Today there are more than 200 wineries throughout the county.
Today the Napa Valley is one of the most popular tourist attractions in California,
and world renowned for its wines. The fame of its wineries is matched by the
reputation of its restaurants. Combined with the beauty of the area, they provide
a vacation holiday without equal anywhere in the country.
Although many locals like to say that the Napa Valley gets as many visitors as Disneyland, the reality is that Disneyland has about 14 million visitors a year and the Napa Valley a little over five million. Five million is enough--particularly because most of them come either during the summer or during "crush", the harvest in September and October. Come visit us during late fall, over the winter, or in the spring and you'll find far fewer people and have much more time to chat with winery staff. The valley is beautiful all year long, just different from season to season. The wine is always delicious.
The City of Napa is the county seat, founded in 1848 by Nathan Coombs. During Gold Rush days, cattle and lumber were mainstays of the local economy. Today the economy is based on wine and tourism; over 60,000 people live here.
In 1831 George Yount, the first American settler in the Napa Valley, came to the area now called Yountville. He received an 11,000-acre Mexican land grant and built the first structures in the area: a Kentucky blockhouse and mill. Even more importantly, he planted the first grapevines in the Napa Valley.
In 1855 Yount hired a surveyor to lay out a town site and named it "Sebastopol", ignoring the fact that a town in Sonoma County already had that name. In 1865, two years after his death, the town was renamed in his honor. His grave can be found in Pioneer Cemetery, next to Yountville Park at the north end of town.
When Yountville incorporated, it wanted to be called a "Village".
The State of California didn't allow for villages so Yountville had to refer
to itself as a town. It still feels like a village, with a population of just
over 3,000, half of those at the Veterans Home of California.
Yountville is a "walking town", filled with excellent shops, restaurants and lodging. Spend some time here. You'll enjoy it.
Oakville is an unincorporated area with a great little post office. The small town is famous for The Oakville Grocery and surrounding wineries, particularly Robert Mondovi Winery.
Rutherford is another unincorporated town best known for its two major wineries on Highway 29 â?? Beaulieu Vineyards and Niebaum-Coppola (formerly Inglenook).
Founded in 1853 and the high-profile center of the Napa Valley wine industry, St. Helena is still a small town with less than 6,000 people. The main street of St. Helena is, coincidentally, called Main Street. (It's also Highway 29 and the St. Helena Highway.) Main Street is loaded with enough boutiques to sink a boatload of yuppies. Enjoy yourself. It's small town America with a designer's touch.
Calistoga was developed in the 1860's. Its name is reputed to have been accidentally coined by town founder Sam Brannan. Brannan apparently intended to refer to it as the "Saratoga of California", the "Saratoga" referring to the well-known spa area in New York State. Brannan, having had a few drinks, instead came out with "the Calistoga of Sarafornia". Calistoga it stayed.
Calistoga is the place for spas, and it's the only town in the Napa Valley with any real nightlife--despite the fact that it has only one-tenth the population of the city of Napa. People walk along the sidewalks; wander in and out of bars, restaurants and shops; smile at each other; and, in general, have a great time.
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