Napa Wine Country - "The First Tourist"

This is the first in a series of articles about the people, places and events that helped shape Napa and Sonoma as we know them today.

After watching the atmospheric rise of popularity and quality in California wines over the past thirty-odd years, it is not a stretch to assume that Napa Valley as a tourist destination is a relatively new phenomenon. The presence of modern Zagat rated restaurants, high end shops and hotels certainly support that view. Meanwhile, celebrity influence in the wine industry can be seen everywhere, from labels with names like Montagia and Santana DVX, to wineries owned by a number of entertainment legends.

One has to reach back several generations though to read the details of Robert Louis Stevenson’s wine-filled honeymoon through Napa wine country. The year was 1880, just a few years before his first major success “Treasure Island”, and Stevenson, who suffered from ongoing health issues stemming from fibronous bronchitis, was seeking the solace and temperate environment Calistoga and its surroundings could provide.

Ostensibly this was as much a practical endeavor as it was romantic, but in fact the notion of flowing wine was no afterthought in the choice of location. Stevenson was curious to sample and assess American wines qualitatively against their European counterparts, nearly a full century prior to the famed “Judgment of Paris” tasting in which American wines had improved to the point of meeting and exceeding that challenge.

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