Trick or Treat: Napa Valley’s Ghost Wineries

ghost wineries

There are plenty of ghost wineries in the Napa Valley wine region.

But don’t expect to get spooked by them.

These so called ‘ghost wineries’ may well harbor the ghosts of the men and women who labored in their vineyards and wineries over a century before Napa Valley became a famous wine region.

The actual reason that they are called ‘ghost wineries’ is much more mundane.  It’s a term used to describe the old wine cellars and wineries that existed pre-Prohibition.

Turns out that hundreds of small wineries dotted the landscape between 1860 and 1900 in the years leading up to Prohibition. But by the time Prohibition was repealed in the 1930s, only around 40 wineries remained.

Truth be told, you can’t blame just the Prohibition for this massive decrease in productive wineries. The Prohibition might have made winemaking illegal, but even before that, the vines had been under threat from the destructive vine pest phylloxera. As a result, many vineyards were being ripped out even before Prohibition. And of course, there was also the economic chaos of the Great Depression. Combined, it was this triple threat that destroyed the then booming wine industry.

Abandoned and left to ruins, many of these once productive wineries and cellars have become just relics of the region’s historic winemaking past.

Some, however, have been resurrected and given a second chance.

Take, for example, the Chateau Montelana Winery. Founded in 1882, it had been a major wine producer by the turn of the century, only to falter and fail thanks to this triple threat.

This ‘ghost winery’ was given a second chance in the late 1960s when purchased by James Burnett. By 1976, Chateau Monetelana had more than vindicated its revival, with the winery’s 1973 Chardonnary beating French whites at the famous Paris tasting of 1976.

There are many such ‘ghost wineries’ to be found around Napa Valley.

The trick is discovering where they are.

The treat is being able to visit them.

(photo @Liz Lewis )

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