Our History

Where the Napa Valley Legend Began…

 

RanchStoried in a unique and colorful history, the Oak Knoll District is one of Napa Valley’s oldest grapegrowing areas dating back to 1851, with some of the earliest vineyard plantings of varieties for fine wine.

Captain Joseph W. Osborne, with the Gold Rush booming, settled in California in 1850. The following year he purchased a large tract of land three miles south of Yountville and named it Oak Knoll. In 1852 he brought vine cuttings introducing some of the first European grape varieties to California. Prior plantings had all been of the less-desirable Mission varieties brought by Spanish missionaries.

HavestingBy 1856 Oak Knoll was named the state’s best farm by the California Agricultural Society. Soon Osborne’s fifty-acre vineyard was the largest in Napa Valley. Osborne was a renowned agricultural innovator and advocate for grapes quality. Along with Agoston Haraszthy, he formed the Sonoma-Napa Horticultural Society. Historian Charles Sullivan writes that, “Had he not been murdered by a former employee in 1863, history might well have named him the father of Napa Valley’s fine wine industry.”

In the 1880s, Eshcol Ranch vineyard was founded near Oak Knoll. This ranch would also be recognized as a model farm with small, neatly tailored vineyard blocks as its hallmark. A “state of the art” wooden, gravity-flow winery designed by Hamden McIntyre, who also designed Inglenook, Greystone and Far Niente, was built on the site in 1886. Eshcol Ranch produced some of the wines that established Napa’s prowess as the premier winegrowing region at the 1888 state viticultural convention.

In the 1890s, when Napa Valley counted at least 140 wineries in operation, the valley and the entire state’s wine industry were dealt one blow after another with vine disease, recession, Prohibition, world wars and the Great Depression. By the mid-1960s, the vineyards had been largely replaced with walnuts and hay. And then things began to change…