An Ode to Napa's Century-Old Historic Wineries

With so many trendy wineries on the scene in Napa Valley, it can be easy to overlook the originals—the trailblazing winemakers that established the industry as we know it.

Napa's storied heritage dates back over a century to the late 1800s and, while Prohibition wiped out many of the early operations, a handful were left standing. Some of these—including Charles Krug, Beringer Vineyards and Beaulieu Vineyard—have gone on to become some of the region's most recognizable.

Enjoy wine a century in the making at these eight historic Napa Valley estates.

(Courtesy of Charles Krug)

Charles Krug

One of Napa Valley's most iconic wineries, Charles Krug was the first to host public tastings in California back in 1882. Today, the winery operates eight separate vineyards, including the original Charles Krug estate, which was first planted in 1861. Under the ownership of the Mondavi family, who purchased the winery in 1943, Charles Krug has become a household name recognized for vintages like the full-bodied, crisp-finished Cold Springs Cabernet, the 2014 release of which has aromas of spice, black currant and cardamom. Tastings are available daily ($45, reservations strongly encouraged) in the elegant, restored tasting room and can be paired with small bites from the on-site Cucina de Rosa Salumeria or pizza from the outdoor wood-burning oven (open Thursday through Monday). // 2800 Main St (St. Helena), charleskrug.com


Freemark Abbey, shortly after its construction in 1898.(Courtesy of Freemark Abbey)

Freemark Abbey

Freemark Abbey lays claim to a lot of firsts in Napa Valley: It was the first female-owned and operated winery; the first California winery to compete in the prestigious Judgement of Paris; and one of the earliest vineyards to open a "sampling room" (as tasting rooms were then called) in 1949. The historic winery, constructed with stone from nearby Glass Mountain in 1898, still hosts tastings daily ($35, reservations needed) of the winery's wide portfolio of reds and whites from vineyards in Rutherford and Spring Mountain, including the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon with its aromas of dark cherry, ripe Santa Rosa plum, and black currant. Two Birds/One Stone, a pan-Asian eatery heavily influenced by Wine Country's farm-to-table delights, is tucked inside the restored winery, serving up creative lunch and dinner fare with dishes such as ginger pork meatball banh mi and crispy Sonoma duck leg with Peking glaze. // 3022 St. Helena Hwy N. (St. Helena), freemarkabbey.com


(Courtesy of Inglenook)

Inglenook

Finnish sea captain Gustave Niebaum came to Rutherford in 1879 with the intent of building a winery to rival the finest European estates. Under the helm of Niebaum's grandnephew, John Daniel Jr., who inherited the property in 1939, Inglenook did win critical favor but eventually the chateau and vineyards became too costly to keep up and the property was sold. Inglenook was in a sort of limbo until 1975 when a Hollywood director stepped in to purchase more than 1,500 acres of the estate. Within a few years, Francis Ford Coppola had the winery humming again. Today, Inglenook has been restored and continues to produce sophisticated wines, some of which hail from the original vineyards planted in the 1880s, like the 2014 Rubicon, a cabernet sauvignon with a sweet, round nose and notes of dark berries, currant, spice, and vanilla. Inglenook offers tastings daily from 11am to 4pm ($45, reservations strongly recommended). // 1991 St. Helena Hwy (Rutherford), inglenook.com


(Courtesy of Beringer Vineyards)

Beringer Vineyards

Beringer has the distinction of being the longest continually operated winery in the state of California. The Beringer brothers, immigrants from Mainz, Germany, purchased 215 acres of Napa Valley land in 1875 and, in the 143 years that have followed, Beringer has racked up more accolades than most wineries can ever hope to, including earning Wine Spectator's #1 Wine of the Year for both a white and a red, the only winery every to do so. Beringer offers a variety of different tastings and tours daily including their most affordable options: the old winery tasting room ($25) and a 30-minute tour through the winery's historic tunnels ($30). Keep an eye out for their 2013 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, which earned a near perfect score (97 out of 100) from Wine Advocate for its full body with notes of creme de cassis, graphite, and baking spices. // 2000 Main St (St. Helena), beringer.com


(Courtesy of Schramsberg Vineyards)

Schramsberg Vineyards

Schramsberg's history dates back to the purchase of more than 200 acres by Jacob Schram in 1862. Thanks to the work of Chinese immigrant laborers, by the end of the decade Schram's estate had 30,000 vines and Napa's first hillside caves for storing and aging wines. Despite its promising beginnings, less than a century later Schramsberg's vineyards and stately Victorian mansion were nearly unrecognizable, taken over by acres of tangled, abandoned vines. Jamie and Jack Davies purchased the decrepit property in 1965, hoping to one day produce world-class sparkling wines. Lucky for sparkling wine lovers, their perseverance paid off: Schramsberg is today churning out a huge portfolio of sparkling wines from their dry, crisp 2015 Blanc de Blancs—with aromas of apple, tropical fruit, and baked bread—to their elegant 2009 J. Schram Rosé with its aromas of pineapple, strawberry, peach, and mango. Cave tours and tastings are available daily ($70-125/person, advanced reservations required). // 1400 Schramsberg Rd (Calistoga), schramsberg.com


(Courtesy of Chateau Montelena)

Chateau Montelena

Once called the A.L. Tubbs Winery after its founder, Alfred Tubbs, the chateau was constructed in 1888 with stone walls three to 12 feet thick to protect aging wine barrels within from extreme temperatures. Put on hold through Prohibition in the 1920s, the winery resumed operations in 1933 and was soon after rechristened Chateau Montelena, a contraction of Mount St. Helena. Today the winery is under the ownership of the Barrett family, who updated the winery's equipment and operations in the 1970s. Chateau Montelena specializes in both red and white wines but they are especially known for their unique "earthy-berry" cabernet sauvignons, such as the 2014 Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and their spicy, ripe berry zinfandels, such as the 2015 Calistoga Zinfandel. Tastings are offered daily from 9:30am to 4pm ($30, no reservation needed). // 1429 Tubbs Lane (Calistoga), montelena.com


(Courtesy of Beaulieu Vineyard)

Beaulieu Vineyard

"Beau lieu," Rutherford's "beautiful place," was so named by French immigrant Georges de Latour's wife, Fernande, when she first laid eyes on the four acres her husband purchased in 1900 to produce wines to rival those of his homeland. By providing sacramental wine to the Catholic Church, Beaulieu eked through Prohibition intact and went on to become one of the region's most recognizable wineries thanks to the assistance of Russian viticulturalist André Tchelistcheff, affectionately called the Maestro, who worked at the vineyards from 1938 into the 1990s. Beaulieu's portfolio is a detailed study in cabernet sauvignon, with more than a dozen different varieties including the 2014 BV Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, with its flavors of blackberry, cassis, and black plum. Daily tastings (from 10am to 4pm) start at $30 per person; reservations are recommended. // 1960 St. Helena Hwy (Rutherford), bvwines.com


(Courtesy of Nichelini Winery)

Nichelini Winery

Swiss homesteaders Anton and Caterina Nichelini arrived in Napa's Chiles Valley in 1884 and quickly began planting the grapevines and olive trees that, within a decade, would become the lifeblood of Nichelini Winery. Hand dug out of stone, the winery's original Roman wine press, as well as the seven-bedroom house built by the Nichelinis in the 19th century, are all still in use by the current owners...the Nichelinis...making it the oldest single-family owned winery in the Napa Valley.. Even their winemaker, Aimee Sunseri, is a Nichelini—the great-great-granddaughter of Anton and Caterina. Nichelini Winery produces sparkling wines, reds, and whites, including the 16 Roman Press White, a refreshing blend of muscadelle and sauvignon blanc with notes of green apple, starfruit, and citrus. Tasting at this scenic, off-the-beaten-track winery begins at $20 per person. Reservations are required on weekdays; walk-in tastings are available Friday through Sunday. // 2950 Sage Canyon Rd (St. Helena), nicheliniwinery.com