Sunday, April 29, 2007

About Historical Sketches

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I am an amateur historian focusing on the great old wineries of Napa Valley built before or around the 1900s. My historical glimpses begin long before the era of the new arrivals like the Mondavi’s (now owned by Constellation), the Martini’s (now owned by E & J Gallo), the McCrae’s (Stony Hill winery), the Taylor’s (Mayacamas winery) and Lee Stewart (Souverain - now known as Burgess winery.) My stories deviates from most that are written about the great wineries of Napa Valley in that I delve into the backgrounds of the men who really invested the money to make Napa Valley what it became. What I found so interesting was that for the majority of names little was mentioned about them of any significante in the literature of the owners operating at that site today.

I suggest this situation is inevitable given the amount of money it usually requires each subsequent new owner to invest in his or her purchase of the property. It could probably be argued equally strongly that it is the ego of the new owner that pushes former owner names to the background. Then there are the constraints of time and space. There are only so many signs the property owner can hang about the property. There are only so many inches of text that can be allowed in brochures before the reader loses interest in continuing to read instead of taste. The media probably compounds this problem. For the printed media, they too are limited in column inches allowed by the editor. Television networks and producers have only so many minutes within which to present the subject matter of the show and that must be sandwiched in between the much-needed sponsor's commercials.

My research to date reveals about 100 winery sites that were constructed between 1860 and 1900 that can still be visited or at least viewed from the roadside today. Most of these sites remain in the winegrowing business, some have been converted into use by other business types and the balance was converted into residential use. In the process of researching each site, I visited the property myself where possible, and when not, I have examined old books and websites to find pictures in attempt to get a feel of what it must have been like operating such facilities back in those original production days.

I hope you enjoy these histories. Good sipping to you!

John M. Olney

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