A Changing Landscape
The maps below reflect shifts in land ownership in Rutherford and the Napa Valley between the years 1876 and 1915. The preceding narrative is an effort to place in perspective this shifting landscape and wine industry fortunes over the past 150 years.
Today, in the year 2000, grapegrowing in Rutherford and throughout the Valley is essentially a thriving monoculture, but this has not always been the case. Consider that just 150 years ago, Sonoma had three times as many vines as Napa, and both counties paled in comparison to Los Angeles, which had ten times as many vines planted.
In the 1860's, wheat was king in the Napa Valley, though interest in grapegrowing and winemaking was increasing apace. Throughout California during this time, much of the grape harvest became brandy or a fortified wine called Angelica. This began to change as better varieties of grapes were planted in the 1870's and 1880's.
Grapegrowing in the Rutherford area really took off in the early 1870's. By 1886, Rutherford produced over 4,600 tons of wine grapes and 464,000 gallons of wine. Five years later, the number of winemaking operations in Rutherford had mushroomed and its status as a grapegrowing and winemaking center of distinction really started to take hold.
Even as Rutherford and Napa Valley wines started reaping worldwide accolades in the 1890's, Phylloxera was wreaking its devastation throughout California vineyards. By the turn of the century, millions of vinifera vines grafted to resistant rootstock were being planted in the Napa Valley. Following replanting, the land above Yountville once again became grapevine-intense; but south of Yountville prunes, pears and walnuts also became important, along with fodder crops and grazing land.
By 1913, Napa County ranked fourth statewide in prune production. By the onset of Prohibition in 1920, there were more acres planted to prunes than to grapes. For grapegrowers, the home winemaking craze of the 20's meant they could still grow and sell wine grapes and planting actually accelerated for a few years. Unfortunately, the call to plant grapes that also shipped well spelled disaster for the best wine grape varieties -- more often than not, they were either grafted to heavy-yeilding, thick-skinned varietals, or pulled up. Then grape prices plunged in the mid-20's and grapegrowing became unprofitable for most producers... By 1928, the Napa Valley prune crop was worth twice as much as wine grapes.
The Napa wine industry then jumped from the "frying pan" of Prohibition into the "fire" of the Great Depression. The total acreage of California grapes in 1926 would not again be attained until the boom years of the 1970's. Napa Valley grapes would not again become more valuable than prunes until 1944.
Rutherford's Beaulieu Vineyard (BV) stood quite apart from other Napa wineries -- indeed any California winery -- when Repeal came. Georges de Latour was very profitably engaged in the altar wine trade during Prohibition and had increased wine production since 1930, anticipating Repeal. Also, unlike many others, he had not pulled up his Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. His achievements during the dry years were unmatched, and at the end of Prohibition he was uniquely poised to enter the premium wine market with a trained staff, grape sources and plant capacity. Within five years, he employed André Tchelistcheff who would prove key to BV's long-term success.
At Repeal, Suzanne Niebaum decided to reopen her husband's Inglenook Estate (Gustave had died in 1908), also in Rutherford. A crack viticulture and enology team was brought in and technological/production upgrades were quickly wrought. John Daniel Jr., her great-nephew, took over operations in 1939, and by the 1940's Inglenook's wines once again were declared by many to be the best in the Valley.
Despite excellent table (dry) winemaking by such luminaries as BV and Inglenook, relatively few Americans appreciated their wines. Consumer tastes had changed during the long years of Prohibition and "sweet " became a byword for California wine. Even as late as the early 1960's, 80 percent of California wine production was concentrated on fortified sherry and dessert wines.
Only through intense wine marketing efforts over many years have consumers again come to appreciate premium, dry styles of wine. A boom in planting and revival of interest in premium winemaking exploded in the late 60's and early 70's. Then, in the late 70's and early 80's, the amount of wineries in the Napa Valley more than doubled -- attesting to the area's continued attraction for those interested in "the good life" and the Napa Valley's growing prestige in the world of premium winemaking.
Since 1985, there has been an as-yet-unending growth in the rise of premium table wines -- in itself a true revolution -- while consumption of inexpensive wines continually declines... All of which bodes well for the growing reputation of Rutherford and the Napa Valley.
Simply click on the thumbnails below to view both the more concentrated Rutherford area and the wider Napa Valley views. Unfortunately, especially with the full-size maps, the detail is difficult to make out. These are digital versions of original title maps measuring on average 3' x 5' -- and they were not in the best condition when we got them. But there is still plenty to see that's fascinating -- especially for map enthusiasts.
After you've checked these out, compare the parcels/ title ownership with today's Rutherford map.
|Napa County 1876||Rutherford 1876|
|Napa Valley St. Helena 1881||Rutherford 1881|
|Napa County 1895||Rutherford 1895|
|Napa County 1915||Rutherford 1915|
Rutherford: Map Highlights of Interest
On each of the maps you will note a reference to the "Caymus Rancho." This is the name of the land grant originally conceded to George Yount in 1836, containing what eventually became the town of Rutherford. The reference to Caymus Rancho remains on these title maps through 1915, even though the last acre of land passed out of the Yount family in 1897 -- when the San Francisco Savings and Loan Society took possession of the Rutherford's ranch to satisfy a mortgage. Family members had previously owned 2,500 acres surrounding the town. The Caymus name lives on today as one of our member properties: the celebrated Caymus Vineyards, owned by the Wagner family.
Thomas Rutherford married Elizabeth, one of George Yount's granddaughters, in 1864 -- they received 1040 acres of the Caymus Rancho as a wedding present. The settlement around their ranch was thereafter known as Rutherford. It started showing up on maps as Rutherford Station in 1868, the year the railroad running through it was completed.
Note that one of the later owners of the Rutherford Ranch was the St. Joseph Agricultural School for Boys, owned by the Catholic Church -- specifically the San Francisco Archdiocese. The larger portions of the original Rutherford Ranch now belong to Beckstoffer Vineyards, Round Pond and the Wilsey family.
The Rohlwing family for many years owned the property where the Rutherford Station stood. This property was purchased by Gustave Niebaum, who eventually also purchased Inglenook Ranch, owned by the Watson family (Mrs. Watson was another Yount granddaughter ), in 1879. Mr. Watson had already planted wine grapes. The chateau-cum-winery was finished in 1887 and the Niebaums and their descendents retained title to the property until selling to Heublein in 1964. Today much of the original estate has been re-purchased by Francis Ford Coppola and is now known as the Niebaum-Coppola Estate.
The Thompson family had long owned the property purchased by Georges de Latour in 1900, founding what would become the world-famous Beaulieu Vineyard. For those of you familiar with the winery's location at the northeastern corner of the Rutherford Crossroad/Rte. 29 intersection, it may come as a surprise to know that the original vineyard called Beaulieu was actually originally located across the street, on the west side of Rte. 29 (see the 1915 map). The current location was not purchased until 1923, when Mr. de Latour bought the Valley View Winery (est. 1885) and surrounding property from the Ewer family.