Where Wine Country Began, the Spirit Remains
Napa Valley is home to dozens of “ghost wineries,” from barns and cellars to homes and abandoned structures, comprising a network of the industry from an era gone by. Some of these ghosts are living again. Others have been refurbished and reoccupied, perhaps boldly, as private homes. Still others relish a second chance at making wine. Then there are those that may truly be haunted; relics of a forgotten time whose sounds don't come from shoppers or winemaking, but from the wind whipping through their few remaining walls.
By some counts, there are hundreds of ghost wineries in the Napa Valley. Exploring them can take determination. Or, in some cases, you need only go shopping. It was about 1870 when a Swiss man named Gottlieb Groezinger made wine in the Yountville spot where visitors now shop for handmade bottlestops. Groezinger had some 600 acres in the ground around the structure and he had a prosperous wine business until Prohibition shut him down. He made another go of it after World War II but never duplicated his initial success. In the mid 1960s, the building was refurbished and converted into a destination food and retail complex.
Prohibition (officially the Volstead Act, 1920-1933),
the federal law that made illegal the manufacture and sale of intoxicating
beverages in America, was the primary reason for the demise of
nearly every ghost winery in Napa; as it was with wineries the
nation over. The current boom in California's Wine Country is actually
the second cycle for the industry in this state. It wasn’t the 1970s, but
the 1870s, when wine first put Napa on the map. Trouble was, word spread
much slower at the turn of the last century, and there wasn't much global
news about grapes from California. That is, until John Steinbeck wrote a
the final blow, and Far Niente, the renowned winery in Oakville,
was just one victim. Originally founded in 1885, the winery was
shut in the aftermath of the federal ban. Its founder, a San Francisco
real estate entrepreneur named John Benson, abandoned the building
and set out for parts unknown. The stone structure lay dilapidating
until 1979 when it was given new life with a gorgeous restoration. Reinstating
the original name (which translates to "without
a care" honored its past. Far Niente now ranks as one of California's
oldest wineries and is in the National Register of Historic Places.
Near the entrance to the town is one of the best examples in the region, the stately vine-covered stone cellar at the northeast corner of Main Street and Charter Oak Avenue. Built in 1880, it was the sherry-making facility of Swiss wine merchant Frank Sciaroni, who also had a brandy distillery on the site where Tra Vigne restaurant now stands.
Three blocks from Main Street on the south side is a fantastic residence, once the home of the Lewelling Winery. John Lewelling built it in the mid 1800s, and his name still graces the labels of wines produced by the Wight family. Also on Spring Street is the former home of Tosetti Winery. The frequently photographed barn and watchtower-like structures date to 1882. It is said that the Italian immigrant Baldisere Tosetti sold jugs of his wine right from the barn door.
Head north down Hudson Street to Madrona Street and you'll find the Kraft House and Wine Cellar. Now operated by the Spottswoode Winery, the old sandstone structure was built the early 1880s by Frank Kraft. The magnificent Victorian home on the property was built in 1882. The Novak family refurbished these structures in 1990, taking great care to maintain historical integrity (few ghosts today are so well preserved). The stone structure is now Spottswoode's barrel aging cellar and the home serves as winery offices.
are several abandoned ghost wineries as you head north out of St.
Helena on Main Street. Whether they are haunted or not, is unclear. Listen
for the echoes of grape stompers in the big wooden barn on Library Lane,
across from the public library. Here Jackse Winery operated from 1910 until
Prohibition. North still on Pratt Avenue off Main Street is the empty wooden
box that once housed Zange Winery, established in 1891. These great structures
are the winery equivalent of the storied western ghost towns, places
you hear the wind howl through rickety sideboards and watch tumbleweeds
bounce down the thoroughfare.
Special note: one of the best books on the subject is the locally published Ghost Wineries of the Napa Valley, by Irene W. Haynes, published by the Wine Appreciation Guild, San Francisco. Pick up a copy and start believing in ghosts.
Click Here to view previous articles by Robert Farmer
home : free stuff/discounts : lodging : wineries : destinations : activities : event planning : spas : restaurants : calendar :
weddings : real estate : rss feeds : newsletter : message boards : advertise : site map