Napa Valley is recognized as one of the top wine regions in the world, but it has a long and fascinating history that extends far before the moment the Judgment of Paris put it on the map. Here are four interesting historical facts about the region:

Patwin Native Americans Were the Valley’s First Inhabitants 

Thousands of years ago, Patwin Native Americans became the region’s first settlers. They lived near rivers and streams in the summer and in huts made of tree branches in the winter. Their diet typically consisted of acorns, worms, grasshoppers, insects, and bread made from California buckeye kernels. Father Jose Altimura and Francis Castro became the first Europeans to explore Napa Valley in the 1800s. 

Winemaking Dates Back to the 1800s

In 1839, Euro-American settler George Yount became the first person to plant grapes in Napa Valley. In the 1850s, he created a small village that he called Yountville (yes, that Yountville). Charles Krug supposedly established Napa Valley’s first commercial winery in 1861--a successful venture that led to a new crop of wineries throughout the valley. By the 1880s, wine had become a burgeoning business in Napa Valley, with over 20,000 acres of vineyards and 140 wineries. 

The Town of Napa Dates Back to 1847

In 1847, Nathan Coombs laid the townsite for what is now Napa. Located between modern-day Brown Street and the Napa River, Napa became a trade and transportation center for travelers and industrial, commercial, and agricultural goods because of its proximity to the river and ferry. The first steamboat arrived in 1850, connecting Napa with San Francisco for the next two decades. A railroad was built in the 1860s, adding a separate mode of transportation. Native Americans, Europeans, and Asians made up the primary population, and gold miners looking for their fortunes during the Gold Rush often stayed here. The first building was a saloon, followed by a general store. 

A Phylloxera Plague Nearly Destroyed Everything

In the late 1800s, a plague of phylloxera (tiny insects that feed on and destroy vines) overwhelmed the region. With bugs destroying many of the vines, several vintners were forced to turn their attention to planting walnuts and prunes instead. Because of the Prohibition and the Great Depression, most of the wineries and vineyards that had survived the insect infestation were forced to close their doors. The few that remained open produced wine for church services. Though many wineries reopened in the 1940s, the region didn’t explode onto the map until the Judgment of Paris in 1976.


If learning about Napa Valley’s rich, unique history leaves you longing to move to the historic community, contact Ginger Martin today. As an experienced agent with a comprehensive knowledge of the Napa Valley real estate market, Ginger can answer any questions you have about the home buying process and help you find a property that’s right for you.