History of Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley
Cabernet Sauvignon arrived in California in the mid-1800s and was planted in the Santa Clara Valley before making its way north to Sonoma later in the century. Despite being a finicky grape, its aromatic qualities were well-received by wine enthusiasts. H.W. Crabb then brought the grape to Napa Valley and planted it in the To Kalon Vineyard (which means “highest beauty” in Greek), now part of the Oakville AVA.
The double whammy of phylloxera in the late 1880s and Prohibition in the 1920s stunted the wine industry for a time, but by 1963, Cabernet Sauvignon became the third most-planted grape in Napa, after Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. The 1970s were a time of great experimentation in Napa Valley, as winemakers pushed the limits of what was possible with Cabernet Sauvignon. Long maceration times were tried, and tannins were expertly softened. The decade also saw a surge in Cabernet plantings, as the industry gained momentum and confidence, but no better event exemplified all the strides made in the industry than when a Cabernet and a Chardonnay from Napa beat out French competitors in the 1976 Judgment of Paris.
Another round of phylloxera in the 1980s again threatened to destroy the region, but by this time, winemakers were armed with better plant material, rootstocks, and know-how when it came to replanting. The rise of so-called “Cult Cabernet” labels further captured wine drinkers’ attention, and by 1997, Cabernet Sauvignon was the most planted variety in Napa Valley, and remains to this day.