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 legendary.
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 thegreat 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 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.
Oakville vintner Graeme MacDonald, whose family first acquired their land in 1954, has done an incredible
amount of research into Oakville's history. We have assembled many of the facts and images he has gathered into the timeline below, with additional contributions from many of Oakville's members.
Click on any image for a larger view and a slide show.
Oakville in the 1800's
Oakville in the 1900's