For 145 years or so, the local harvest has enticed wine enthusiasts to visit Napa Valley and county. According to an 1871 Napa County Reporter article, those visitors enjoy tasting the local wines, especially “the bubbly.”

Titled “A Visit to Mr. Woodward’s Distillery,” the article also gradually revealed the very human side of its journalist, a Mr. Twiggs: “On last Wednesday afternoon Twiggs, our mutual friend, in company with some of our distinguished citizens, paid a visit to the extensive distillery and vineyard of Gen. Wm. Woodward, some two to three miles west of town.

“The afternoon was well calculated for the enjoyment of fine spirits. We regret exceedingly that he (Twiggs) did enjoy them to such an extent as not to be able to give a very satisfactory account of what he saw, did, heard, and tasted.”

Although the pleasant perks of his assignment blurred his faculties, the reporter was able to recount some of the details of his visit to his colleagues. His condition was so relaxed, however, his colleagues had to write his article.

They wrote, “We ascertained, however, that the hospitable General was met on his road to town, but promising to return immediately, the party kept on and were shown the sights by ‘John,’ the genial Portuguese, who acts as ‘first man’ in the preparation of brandy and sherry. Entering the champagne department they found some three-thousand bottles of this sparkling beverage undergoing the second of the many manipulations which it is obliged to pass.”

The newspaper went on to describe the aging process. “In this stage, the bottles are placed cork down for the purpose of allowing the sediment to collect in the neck of the bottle. Some little curiosity being manifested as to how it was then disposed of, the man in charge made an example of the bottle under examination by cutting the string, whereupon away flew the cork, the sediment following, and out gushing the pure liquid in a stream of snow-white foam.”

As the article continued it became increasingly clear as to why Twiggs was unable to meet his deadline. “The champagne underwent inspection with the assistance of glasses, and though it is not mature, the party expressed themselves as having tasted no better California champagne. Twiggs says he couldn’t distinguish it from the best Heidsick, but this is probably owing to his tarried too long by the side of the sherry and brandy casks.”

Based on the reporter’s description, it seems Woodward’s sparkling wine production was fairly large for its time. “Next, but by no means least, they were shown some 15,000 gallons of champagne in its first or primary stage, and a fine sample of ‘vermouth.’ Here Twiggs was overcome as by a summer cloud; and not withstanding the host, upon his return home, conducted the party over the entire premises and submitted his various brands to a second test, our hero’s appreciation, like his words, failed to increase in distinctness or fitness, and the staple of his conversation since has been ‘vermouth.’”

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Also based on the information in this article, it is highly probable it took Twiggs a considerable amount of time before he could live down his excessive enjoyment of General Woodward’s libations.

The article revealed, just like today, 19th-century Napans had locally produced sparkling wine to toast their special celebrations as well as their everyday occasions. Cheers!

Editor’s note: Since 1871, however, the wine world has agreed that only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France can properly be called Champagne. The rest is sparkling wine.

Rebecca Yerger is a Napa-based writer and historian. Email her at yergerenterprises@yahoo.com.

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