My last post was about Napa Valley wine prices in 1970 so I thought it might be fun to try and describe what the Napa Valley was like back then. Our first trip to the Napa Valley was in 1968. We were newly married and just a mere 25 years old. I had actually been there once as a teenager but of course could not have cared much about visiting wineries. We owe our interest in wine and wine country traveling to my brother-in-law and to a teaching colleague who were both 12 years our senior. Both of these individuals introduced us to wine and we traveled often with these folks to the wine country. My guide back then to wine country was the first edition of Sunset Magazine’s California Wine Country. It was published in 1968 and was priced at a whopping $1.95.
I remember quite well visiting Beringer, Christian Brothers at Greystone, Louis Martini, Charles Krug, Beaulieu, and Inglenook. These at the time were all day trips for us. There was no traffic to speak of and I don’t remember any crowds in the tasting rooms. The best place to dine was not Yountville or St.Helena but in Calistoga at the Calistoga Inn. Up the street was the Mount View Hotel that also had a great restaurant. Napa Valley was not a gastronomic center or vacation destination by any means.
My 1968 Sunset Wine Country book has a map and directory of the Napa Valley wineries. It lists a total of 18 wineries. Today there are well over 200 that you can visit. Robert Mondavi Winery was completed by then and when we visited we purchased a few bottles of their first vintage 1966 Cabernet and some 1968 Fume Blanc. We also remember driving up Mount Veeder and getting lost before finding the Mayacamus Winery.
Visitors today who want to follow that part of history are still able to visit these same spots. Christian Brothers is now the Culinary Institute Academy, and we still love visiting the historic Greystone structure that was built in 1882. We love browsing around and viewing the displays of winemaking equipment that was used long ago. The amazing Inglenook Chateau, built back in 1887 by Gustave Niebaum, has now been restored to its glory days. Inglenook is now Rubicon Estate owned by Francis Ford Coppola. For $25 you can purchase a “Passport” that will give you a very informative tour of the Chateau and tasting of the Rubicon wines. There are lots of the old Inglenook bottles displayed there. Don’t forget to go upstairs and take a look at the vintage Tucker automobile, right out of Coppola’s movie “Tucker.”
Another fun place to stop is the Old Bale Grist Mill built in 1849. On weekends they give milling demonstrations with the 36-foot-water mill in operation. The mill is a few miles north of the Beringer Brothers Winery. As long as you are up that far, visit the town of Calistoga. The shopping area of Lincoln Avenue has not changed and walking these few blocks will really take you back to 1970.