What is a Ghost Winery?

A barrel of wine.

A ghost winery is a relic of the thriving Napa Valley wine culture of the late 1800s. Napa Valley is widely recognized today as one of the premier wine regions in the world, with a number of prominent wines and winemakers hailing from this region of California. Many people are surprised to learn that the history of Napa Valley winemaking predates the infamous 1976 Judgment of Paris, when California wines outperformed several famous French wines in a blind tasting.

The Napa Valley is a California wine region.

Wine growing in the Napa Valley really took off in the mid-1800s, with a large number of wineries opening from the 1860s to the 1900s and producing a variety of wines. However, Napa’s wine production began to fail in the early 20th century, first because of Prohibition and later because of the Depression. Wineries also struggled with grape pests, which decimated some crops. Many wineries were forced to close their doors, and their equipment and facilities could deteriorate until the 1970s, when the Napa Valley wine industry was rejuvenated and some people made efforts to preserve the rich history of the region’s wineries.

A ghost winery can take two forms. The first is that of an operating winery. A functioning ghost winery is often substantially renovated and can resemble its 1800s counterpart in name only, with new equipment, aging caves and facilities. A handful of ghost wineries still have older vines, and some have preserved exterior buildings and equipment from the 1800s as curiosities. Some also use the original wine cellars to age and store special edition wines.

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The number of ghost wineries working is estimated to be in the tens, including establishments such as Hall Winery, Storybook Mountain Vineyards, Ch√Ęteau Montelena and the Franco-Switzerland Winery near St Helena. It is possible to take a guided tasting of Napa’s ghost wineries, and these trips can be very interesting, for those who are interested in the history of California wines and California in general.

More commonly, a ghost winery is no longer a winery. Some private homes in Napa Valley are actually converted wineries, as are some shopping malls and businesses. Although these facilities no longer produce wines, vestiges of the past can sometimes be discovered, especially in the case of renovations where the local winemaking tradition has been preserved. For example, some companies located on the site of a ghost winery have withheld wine barrels and pressing equipment.

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