VALLEJO, California—Near this city in the northern part of California, where many Filipinos hack out a living, lies Napa Valley, which takes pride in besting several famous French labels 41 years ago.
The reputation, earned from the blind Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, which featured a Napa Valley Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, has been a source of pride for Californians, known for hectares of vineyards from up north down to the southern part near Los Angeles and San Diego facing the Pacific Ocean.
Officials familiar with the blind tasting format say Napa Valley’s entries bested several famous French labels – distinction which younger generations of Californians take pride in.
A member of the younger generation is 44-year-old Orville Maen, a retired non-commissioned officer from the US Marine Corps and a veteran of the first Gulf War in the 1990s.
Maen, who now works as a financial specialist and who washes down his steak and other food with Napa Valley wines, told Manila Standard, “Napa Valley, which has 33 soil series with more than 100 soil variations is home to thousands of hectares of grape vineyards and is a good source of blended wines. The land itself makes Napa unique and the (cool) weather is perfect.
“The grapes are all natural, no harmful chemicals used, and the authorities keep the vineyards as natural as possible.”
According to Maen, who sounded familiar with wine processing in the Valley, the producers mix their wines with different berries from Canada and place these in wine caves underground.”
Napa Valley is known for its distinct reds: Opus One, Rubicon and Dominus. These are blends primarily made from Cabernet Sauvignon.
Many say most Napa Valley’s blended wines use the grape varieties famous in the French Bordeaux region – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Meriot – and sometimes Petit Verdot and/or Malbec.
Since ages back, the Napa Valley has sat on Mount Saint Helena, now a dormant volcano whose outer ridge forms the rings of mountains surrounding the Valley, whose volcanic rocks have given the area what Maen described as “soil quality perfect for growing grape varieties.”
Napa’s first commercial winery was established in 1861 by Charles Krug whose success and leadership excited a wave of new growth that by 1889 there were more than 140 wineries in operation.
Within the Valley, north of San Pablo City and near this waterfront port city in the North Bay region of the San Francisco Bay area, lie more than 18,200 hectares of vineyards planted.
Cabernet Sauvignon is king in Napa Valley with 3,318 hectares while Chardonnay is the most widely planted white wine variety with 2,950 hectares.
Today, there are almost 850 wineries in California although only 4 percent of California’s wine is produced in Napa Valley.
The figure is interesting, according to old hands here, since the Napa Valley is only 48 kilometers in length and 8 kilometers across at its widest point.
The Valley’s vineyards can be found from sea level up to about 2,400 feet above sea level.
The Napa Valley wine industry creates almost 46,000 jobs in Napa County with some 303,000 reported, according to latest and available figures, nationwide and represents more than $50 billion in the domestic economy in contemporary times.
With its badge of honor among wine experts, the Napa’s wine country has become a major tourist attraction.
Some in the industry have said that with a climate similar to a Mediterranean weather region – mild winters and dry hot summer temperatures – “the grapes are happy here.”
According to chroniclers of the Napa Valley wine, California was first introduced to “vitis vinifera” wines, a species of wine grapes native to the Mediterranean region, in the 19th century by the Spanish, who planted vineyards with each 21 missions they established.
The wine was used for religious sacraments as well as for daily life.
The vine cuttings used to start the vineyards came from Mexico and were the descendant of the “common black grape” brought to the New World by Hernán Cortés in 1520.
The grape’s association with the church caused it to become known as the Mission grape, which was to become the dominant grape variety in California until the 20th century.
The California Gold Rush in the mid-19th century brought waves of new settlers to the region, increasing the population and local demand for wine and the newly growing wine industry took hold in Northern California around the counties of Sonoma and Napa.
The first commercial winery in California, Buena Vista Winery, was founded in 1857 by Agoston Haraszthy and is located in Sonoma, California, with John Patchett opening the first commercial winery in the area that is now Napa County in 1859.
It was in the 19th century when some of California’s oldest wineries were founded including Buena Vista Winery, Gundlach Bundschu, Inglenook Winery, Markham Vineyards and Schramsberg Vineyards.
Chroniclers have also said Chinese immigrants played a prominent role in developing the Californian wine industry during this period: building wineries, planting vineyards, digging the underground cellars and harvesting grapes.
Some also assisted as winemakers prior to the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act which severely affected the Chinese community in favor of encouraging “white labor.”