I get so many periodicals for my assorted hobbies that sometimes I get behind in my reading, among many other things. The Wine Spectator magazine back in July had a major story about Robert Mondavi and his impact on the wine industry. There were plenty of accolades and side bars about the man and his empire and I found it all so interesting.
Some times my brain works in unique way. As I was reading all the fascinating items in the man’s life, there was a photograph, albeit an older one, and one that looks different from the one I saw, and I should have stopped and posed. I am talking about that iconic sign post as one enters Napa Valley. The photograph in the magazine showed nine companies on the sign, and the sign has been changed over the years, and those nine companies are not listed anymore.
What struck me the most, was that when I first started learning about wine and it was before the tidal wave of Napa Valley erupted in 1976, that California was not thought of if the same manner that it is today. I think back then, one became a wine snob, whether they wanted to or not, because wine was only thought of as a European product. I went back into my scrapbook of wine labels that I started when I was in high school and have more or less tried to maintain it over the years. I was surprised at what I discovered as I went looking to see how many of the big companies I had actually had before California was deemed cool. I will list each entry from the sign and my observations:
Beringer is still around and I have written about some of the wines that I have had from this company, but the earliest label that I could find was Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1991, which is from Sonoma County. The other earliest label and ironically was also not from Napa, but the vintage was not on it was Beringer Alluvium Knights Valley.
Louis M. Martini was another winery that I did not have the pleasure of trying until 2012 at a resort. The wine was Louis M. Martini Pinot Noir, vintage unknown, but it was from Napa Valley.
Inglenook is the winery of Napa lore, and it has had its ups and downs since its founding and the vinery and grounds have been reunited as Niebaum-Coppola in Rutherford. I found a label that must have been around 1970, as most of the other labels surrounding it are from that date. I have also had the Niebaum-Coppola Rubicon 2000 and back to its proper listing the Inglenook Cask Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. So I have gone full circle with this wine.
Freemark Abbey is one of the elder statesmen of Napa Valley, and I am sorry to say that I have never had any of their wines. The winery is now part of the Jackson Family of wines.
Beaulieu Vineyard is another winery that I actually had before 1976, and the first wine amazing as it sounds was their premier wine, I had BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve 1970. I could also find labels of this fine wine from 2004 and 2007 as well as their more popular priced selections as well.
Napa Cooperative Vineyard and Vin-Mont Wines, alas I could find no pertinent information on these companies, so I can only surmise that they either folded or were bought out and the products renamed. As for The Christian Brothers all I can remember was that they were more of a “jug” wine company and they also made California Brandy.
C. Mondavi & Sons, the last name on the sign is a winery that I must have missed for years. The first wine that I ever had was from the joint venture Opus One 1989 and to make up for it, I may have had about a dozen vintages since, what a vertical run that would have been, if I still had them. The first Woodbridge line of wines that he started in Lodi was Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon 1994. The first of the actual line was Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1996.
As I was researching this article, the presumption that I must make, besides being a pseudo-wine snob from the era, was that I did not encounter that many of the wines while either shopping or dining out. I thought that some of the early labels would at least be interesting to look at.