Napa Valley achieved worldwide fame with the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, when wines from the region were pitted against established French brands; some erroneously conclude that this decade marked the beginning of California’s wine industry. To firmly establish Napa Valley as part of an older world of wine (if not the actual Old World) prominent vintners there are supporting a costly new project—a registry of historic vineyards. The initiative, spearheaded by local grape grower Andy Beckstaffer, will designate certain county vineyards that date back to the nineteenth century.
“People around the world know us for our fancy tasting rooms and our expensive wines,” says Beckstoffer, who was inspired after coming across some historical records of vineyards from the 1890s, “but there’s history to the vineyards and that’s a very important piece of who we are.”
Beckstoffer’s brainchild, whose projected cost is about $300,000, is being sponsored by the Napa Valley Grape Growers Association. Local anthropologist Rue Ziegler has been selected to carry out the initial research (a process which will involve a lot of old maps and documents). Once a countywide map of historic growing areas is complete, individual vintners who fall into one can then apply to be part of the registry.
Vintner Bill Harlan of cult winery Harlan Estate, says wine growers like himself are interested in building a record of Napa’s vineyards. “With any place of significance, there is always interest in its history. When that history is documented it brings greater credibility.”
Once the registry is established, Beckstoffer will chair a select committee of diverse members, including retired judges and historians, who will be the gatekeepers. “These are people who are objective and have the community’s interests in mind rather than the industry’s”, says Beckstoffer. “I want the registry to be inclusive, but to be included, people are going to have to prove they have a right to be in it. We’re not creating any history, just going through the effort to document it.”