April 2016

The Changing Face of Napa Valley

by Stuart Harrison on April 5, 2016


This will be the first of a series of blogs on the subject of the changes in the Napa Valley over the last 40 years. The partners of Trivium have the distinction of tenures that go back well into the 70’s. Here’s the first of our reflections on our dramatic transformation.

In recounting our 40 year metamorphosis, one should start with the landscape of Napa Valley, both figuratively and literally. Those who visited the Napa Valley in the seventies know there was only one serious hotel in the Valley. The only other lodging was a modest motel in St. Helena, and the dated spas in Calistoga. Napa Valley had clearly not yet been discovered.

And neither had its wine business. In 1975, there were only 25 wineries in Napa Valley, whose production was dominated by 6 producers… Robert Mondavi, Louis Martini, Charles Krug, Beringer, Beaulieu and Inglenook. Today, there are 450 distinct winemaking facilities (complete with tasting rooms) well over 1000 brands, and well over 6000 distinct bottlings!

And back in the 70’s, the glitz and glamour of Napa’s wineries had not yet surfaced. Robert Mondavi’s Oakville facility and its hospitality focus was a breakthrough in this regards. The Mondavi facility (and Sterling Vineyards five years later) were in stark contrast to the production-focused and functional facilities of the time. Tasting rooms, in many cases, were located in dank cellars or refurbished barns. I remember well my first tasting at Louis Martini winery in the 70’s… where we sampled his highly touted Cabernet Reserve out of plastic cups! And Sutter Home’s tasting room at the time was a rustic barn along Highway 29. Perhaps most startling… tastings back then were free!

The landscape of the 70’s was a reminder that Napa Valley, just 40 years ago, was still in its infancy. We had just begun. It’s amazing how far we’ve come.

{ 1 comment }