When America’s economic conditions improved in the late 1870’s, the idea that Napa Valley was wine country caught on and the Oakville area was transformed. Between 1878 and 1889 the little village along the tracks became the center of one of California’s most important wine districts, part of a valley whose honors in wine would become legion.
H.W. Crabb was the first man who made Oakville a premium wine district. He came to California in 1853 and settled in San Lorenzo. In 1868, Crabb purchased a 240-acre parcel in Oakville. By 1877, Crabb had 130 acres of the best vines available and was producing 50,000 gallons of wine. He called the place To Kalon, Greek for “most beautiful.” Crabb was solidly in place to enjoy the great wine boom that dominated California viticulture after 1879. By 1880, Oakville had become a bustling little village, and there were 430 acres of wine grapes in the area.
Others were also in place when wine became a growth industry. One was John Benson, who bought 400 acres of Oakville land in 1873 and planted an 84- acre vineyard. In 1876 he made his first wine, 15,000 gallons—and dubbed the estate Far Niente, Italian for “without a care.” In 1885, his great winery was built from plans by H.W. McIntyre, whose other masterpieces would include Inglenook (now Niebaum-Coppola) and Greystone (now the West Coast headquarters of the Culinary Institute of America). A wonderfully restored Far Niente still graces the western foothills of Oakville.
1857 Post Office established in Oakville.
1867 Oakville established as a stop on Napa Valley’s north/south railway line.
1868 H.W. Crabb purchases 240 acre ranch in Oakville.
1873 John Benson purchases 400 acres, plants 84 to vineyards.
1877 Crabb produces 50,000 gallons of wine from To Kalon Winery.
1880 Oakville area includes 430 acres of vineyards.
1885 John Benson builds Far Niente Winery.
1887 Surveys report 1,085 acres under vine in Oakville.
1893 Crabb’s To Kalon wines garner 8 awards at Columbia Exposition.
1903 Oakville Experimental Station established by U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
1965 Heitz Cellars produces “Martha’s Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon
1966 Robert Mondavi Winery is founded in Oakville by Bob Mondavi, with partners Ivan Schoch and Fred Holmes.
1993 Oakville is officially recognized as a distinct appellation.Oakville Winegrowers forms with Vintners and Growers to preserve, promote and protect the appellation.