1881 Napa: A Taste of History

  • Wineries
  • on SEPTEMBER 13, 2019
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Napa Valley may be one of the most well-known wine growing regions in the world, but many people aren’t aware of how many distinct sub-appellations the region actually has — 16, in case you’re wondering. And, while Napa is well-suited to growing a variety of grapes, there’s no denying that Napa Valley is cabernet country, with cabernet being the most widely planted grape in the region. In a perfect world, we’d spend an entire month (or more!) exploring what makes Napa Valley cabernet what it is, from the varying microclimates to the diverse soils. However, since that’s not the most realistic approach for most, there’s now a simpler solution thanks to 1881 Napa.

Located in the heart of Napa Valley in the tiny town of Oakville, 1881 Napa is a new wine tasting room dedicated to appellation-designate cabernet sauvignon bottlings under their label of the same name, using fruit sourced from some of the most prestigious vineyards throughout Napa Valley. Offering cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley’s distinct growing areas, a visit to 1881 Napa is a rare opportunity to taste the varying characteristics that Napa Valley cabernet can display, from savory and smoky to rich and fruit forward. Even more, each of the tastings are designed to be educational and exploratory, so everyone who visits can get a better understanding of what makes this area ideal for growing cabernet.

Regardless of which tasting experience you choose, you’re bound to learn something new while you sip. There’s a comparison tasting featuring two wines from two cooler AVAs and two from much warmer AVAs, as well as a tasting option that dives deeper into the flavors and nuances of cabernet from Napa’s mountainside vineyards versus those grown on the valley floor. Another tasting experience allows you to ponder how texture and tannin feel on the palate to grasp why these components are vital in cabernet wines, while the tasting known as “Opposites Attract” explores four extremely different AVAs to let you sample a full range of cabernet expressions. Visitors can even “Embark on a Journey Throughout the Valley” and taste cabernets from 12 different sub-appellations, an experience that would take days to do anywhere else!

Housed in a landmark Victorian house built from 1874 to 1877, 1881 Napa takes its name from the year the adjacent Oakville Grocery was founded, a store that happens to be California’s longest continuously operating grocery. To pay homage to this history and the significance of California’s early wine days, the historic home has been completely reimagined as a modern tasting salon and museum.

As the first wine museum in Napa Valley, 1881 Napa showcases wine artifacts and relics from the 19th century, a collection of antique wine decanters, and information on Napa’s early wine pioneers. Adding to the space is a 48-light Baccarat crystal Zenith chandelier that hangs below a reproduction of an 1895 map of Napa County on canvas, making for a striking contrast between old and new.

After a bit of wine and education at 1881 Napa, be sure to stop into Oakville Grocery next door to load up on sandwiches and Wine Country picnic fare, then pinch yourself for having had the opportunity to experience so much history and wine all in one place. 1881 Napa is truly a must-stop for wine lovers looking to brush up on Napa Valley’s history and for those looking to discover the dramatically different expressions of cabernet from Napa Valley.

Photos courtesy of 1881 Napa / Julia Jinks


Hana-Lee Sedgwick

Hana-Lee Sedgwick is a writer and editor based in Santa Barbara, California. A Certified Specialist of Wine and Sommelier, Hana-Lee specializes in all things wine, food, and travel, and her work regularly appears in publications such as The Tasting Panel, Edible, and Food & Home. Follow her on Instagram at @wanderandwine.