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    The Wappo Indians, original residents of this long narrow valley, named it Napa, meaning 'land of plenty'. Thinking of the acres and acres of robust grapes, it seems like a perfect name for the picturesque valley. The Wappos, however, were referring to the abundance of salmon, elk, and waterfowl in the Napa River. Even then, small wild grapes grew.

    With the arrival of the Spanish, Napa Valley became Napa Rancho, a virtually unpopulated tract in the vast ranchland of Alta California. The Wappo way of life was quickly subsumed and rendered extinct by mission culture. Between 1820-1840, under Mexican rule, Napa County was divided into 12 ranchos. In 1836 the Mexican government gave the pioneer George Yount a grant for the Caymus Rancho, thereby putting into motion the foundations of modern Napa.

    Yount was a pioneer in the development of the Napa Valley. He was one of the first Anglo-Saxon settlers, residents and builder of the first local homestead. Lastly, he cultivated the first grapes of Napa. After his death in 1865, Yountville -- two towns south of Calistoga -- was named in his honor.

    Other homesteaders quickly followed Yount. The valley's soil was fertile; its wide hills were perfect for ranching. The river made it easy to ship cargo to San Francisco. The city of Napa became an important port and commercial center. Cattle, lumber, wheat, and quicksilver—mined, grown, and raised in Napa County, were shipped into the San Francisco Bay to feed a growing state.

    The 1840s Gold Rush, coupled with Mexican cession of 1846, opened California to migration and settlement: ultimately forming the Napa Valley. Viable communities sprouted in Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga. Napa County was one of the original counties when California became a part of the Unites States in 1849.

    Charles Krug established the first commercial winery in Napa Valley in 1861, and by 1889 there were 140 wineries in the area. The quick growth of the new wine industry was its undoing, however. In the late 1890s a surplus sank prices, and Phylloxera arrived on American shores. So it was hardly cheering, then, when in 1920 the National Prohibition Act became law. The vineyards lay fallow. Throughout the Roaring Twenties, Napa was in the doldrums.

    The Great Depression further slowed business. The 21st Amendment, which overturned Prohibition and was for Wine Country a message from the divine. In 1938, André Tchelistcheff introduced new techniques: aging wine in small French oak barrels, cold fermentation, vineyard frost prevention and malolactic fermentation–the process of change in wine in which tart malic acid is converted into a softer tasting lactic acid. These techniques helped bring Napa's wine production into the modern era.

    In 1965, Rober Mondavi left his family's Charles Krug estate and opened the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville. It was the first large-scale production wineries to be established since before prohibition. Following the introduction of the Mondavi estate, new wineries sprang up and grew rapidly. Today there are over 300 wineries in the Napa Valley growing several grape varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

    The Paris Wine Tasting of 1976–a blind taste test, where Napa wines were tested among their rival French wines, shook the world of viticulture. In the results, California wines outranked their French counterparts. As a result, Californian wines, in the 1970s, grew in prestige and production.

    Napa has become synonymous with luxury, from its wine to its five-star dining. In 2007, the inaugural year of the Michelin Guide San Francisco, Bay Area & Wine Country, Bouchon, The French Laundry, Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil, La Toque and Bistro Jeanty, all received Michelin Stars.

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