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The Long History of Chiles Valley Grape Growing

Joseph Chiles’ arrival was notable because it marked a change in migration patterns to Alta California. Chiles was a member of the first wagon train to traverse the Sierra Nevada in 1841. Until that time, all of the region’s inhabitants came from Mexico in the south or by sea.

The Colonel began to develop the land, establishing a grist mill and making flour. He also began planting vineyards on his property. In 1854, Colonel Chiles gave sections of Rancho Catacula to his two sons-in-law, Jerome Davis and Gabriel Brown. Vineyards were one of the first agricultural goods planted in the region.

Native Americans from the Wintun Nation inhabited the valley before Chiles arrived. They were a powerful conglomerate of tribes that was based in the Sacramento Delta. The Wappo, Pomo, Suysun, and Patwin were all part of the Wintun Nation. The Wappo had the largest presence in region now known as Chiles Valley.

During the 1870s, Francis Sievers bought part of Rancho Catacula. He planted a vineyard and established Lomita’s Winery. This land is now part of Volker Eisele Family Estate.

In the subsequent decades, the valley’s isolation was both a curse and a blessing for its viticultural production. The distance of the region from the rest of the Napa Valley largely excluded it from boom years of the late 19th century.

At the same time, the vineyard development that did occur was largely protected from the devastation of phylloxera. A few pre-phylloxera Zinfandel vines are still alive and thriving to this day. These century-old vines are some of the most prized in the entire AVA. They have low yields, and produce grapes of dense, concentrated flavor.

From the time Prohibition was signed into law until the early 1970s, very little wine was produced in the Chiles Valley. The region was too small and out of the way to be a significant contributor to the mass-produced fortified and jug wines made in the decades immediately following Prohibition.

In 1972, the Meyer Family purchased a large tract of land that had previously been used solely for raising thoroughbreds. The Meyers began planting Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Eisele Family began planting Cabernet Sauvignon in 1975.

In 1985, they founded RustRidge Ranch and Winery. Despite the fact that about 90% of its grapes are sold to other wineries, it is currently the largest producer in the valley. AVA status was granted in 1999.

There are currently a little over 1,000 acres of vines in Chiles Valley. Most of the arable land within the AVA is being used for grape production, but there are still a few hundred acres that are not developed.

The Napa Valley Backroads Winery Experience is an organization of three Chiles Valley wineries that was recently established. The member wineries, Catacula Lake, RustRidge, and Nichelini, want to draw attention the unique wine production in Chiles Valley. All of these producers are located east of Silverado Trail in the hills east of Rutherford and St Helena.

> Chiles Valley Wineries

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