When biofuel executive and agricultural and environmental researcher Anthony Jean-Claude seeks a good wine, he looks no further than the Napa Valley in California. Located north of the San Francisco Bay Area, the valley has become world-famous for its wineries, attracting as many as 5 million visitors each year, including Mr. Jean-Claude. Inhabited by Native Americans since prehistoric times, the Napa Valley saw its first fort built by a Spanish governor in 1776, and in the early 1800s attracted Russian ranchers as well as European settlers.
By 1900, more than 140 wineries existed in the Napa Valley. Wine aficionados such as Anthony Jean-Claude can still enjoy products from several of those vintners, including Charles Krug Winery, Chateau Montelena Winery, Schramsberg Vineyards, and Beringer Vineyards. However, the industry suffered during Prohibition in the 1920s and continued to struggle because of a Phylloxera infestation that killed many of valley’s vines. Exhibiting the same entrepreneurial spirit as Mr. Jean-Claude, an alternate energy leader in addition to wine connoisseur, many growers began shipping grapes to immigrant families across America to be used in home-winemaking. The Mondavi family, for example, left Minnesota for the Napa Valley during this time to ship grapes back to Italian miners.
Today, wine connoisseurs such as Anthony Jean-Claude can select wines from more than 300 vintners in the Napa Valley, who grow numerous grape varieties, including Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. The wineries range from Boeschen Vineyards, founded in 1999, to Charles Krug, established in 1861 as the valley’s first winery and now owned by the Peter Mondavi family. Mr. Jean-Claude and others also can sample Corison Winery’s two limited-production Cabernet Sauvignons or the world-class Zinfandels of Charter Oak Winery.
Other choices for Anthony Jean-Claude and millions of other visitors to the Napa Valley include wines from Screaming Eagle, Sequoia Grove, Steltzner Vineyards, and Dunn Vineyards. The charm of the region for Anthony Jean-Claude and his fellow Napa Valley fans rests on not just the fine wines but the agricultural environment as well, consciously maintained by the Williamson Act and the Land Trust of Napa County. Undoubtedly, travelers such as Mr. Jean-Claude will return to Napa Valley for years to come.