Turning points. They’re part of life and certainly part of California wine history. Here are three worth considering:
- 1920 to 1933, Prohibition. Prohibition nearly ended California’s wine industry. Sure, some wineries survived by shipping grapes back east, since the law allowed some home winemaking. But wineries shut down by the dozen. Even worse, whole vineyards of premium grapes were ripped out and replaced with big yielding grape varieties of lesser quality. It would take more than 30 years before California’s wine industry set out on the road to recovery.
- 1966 – Robert Mondavi started his own winery. Mondavi had worked at Sunny St. Helena Winery in Napa and graduated from Stanford University with business savvy and a passion for wine. Mondavi was a visionary. He convinced his father, Cesare, an Italian immigrant who began a wine business in Lodi, to buy Charles Krug Winery in Napa. After Cesare’s death, Robert and his brother Peter fought over the direction of that winery and parted ways. In 1966, at age 53, Robert built the first new winery in Napa Valley since the late 1930s.
He arrived at just the right moment for California wine. His passion, belief that wine should be part of every day living and conviction that California wines could become world-class inspired a generation.
- 1980s-1990s Phylloxera in Napa Valley: In the early 1990s, nearly 50,000 acres of wine grapes in Napa and northern California were ripped out and burned, due to a vine-sucking louse called Phylloxera. But this bug had a silver lining: it allowed wineries to replant vineyards, that were planted in the 1970s with the wrong grape varieties for the terroir. This was an incredible stroke of good luck for Napa Valley. The new vineyards with varieties suited to the terroir began an exciting new chapter in higher quality Napa winemaking.