Renowned for their wines, some Napa Valley wineries have other spirits to offer their guests as well. While steeped in a long, rich and usually dignified history, many of the local 19th-century wineries are haunted by their pasts. Local lore tells tales of ghostly encounters with forlorned souls whose pasts ranged from meeting with tragedy to being doting founders who still keep on eye on their wineries, their dreams.
Located just north of the city of Napa is Trefethen winery. When founded by brothers George and James Goodman in 1886, the winery was known as Eschol - Hebrew for "valley of the grape.” During Prohibition, 1920-1933, the winery was rumored to be a bootleg operation site. One story tells of a young man who broke into the old winery to steal liquor and was caught in the act by bootleggers. According to the tale, the bootleggers lynched the young man, hanging him from one of the interior ceiling beams of the upstairs area of the winery.
It has been reported that some people have sensed and even seen the course of that gruesome event unfold. While others have told of seeing the shadow of a human-like form swinging overhead.
Another tragic death is said to be the catalyst for paranormal activity at Frog’s Leap winery in Rutherford. Historic records tell of how the wife of the original owner, Chris Adamson, died by unnatural causes.
There are two versions of Mrs. Adamson’s demise. The first claims she was murdered by poisoning. The second claims she hung herself. Regardless of the means, it is believed Mrs. Adamson’s death occurred by Barrel #19 and due to her husband’s infidelity.
Moving forward to contemporary times, many of those who work in the Frog’s Leap winery cellar have reported a similar spine-tingling experience. As these mortals pass by and/or stand near the infamous Barrel #19, the hair on the back of their necks stands on end as they feel an intense, dark coldness envelop them.
Still others have had different eerie experiences in the winery. Stationary objects resting on shelves or in storage containers suddenly and inexplicably are hurdled across the room.
The angry spirit thought to be responsible for all of this paranormal activity is assumed to be Mrs. Adamson. Some Frog’s Leap staff refer to her as “La Presencia.”
The hamlet of Rutherford seems to be a hotbed of paranormal activity with numerous other ghost sightings throughout town. Its two iconic wineries, Beaulieu and Rubicon, both have their resident ghosts, including their watchful past owners.
At Beaulieu Vineyards, both visitors and employees alike have seen a transparent apparition at the winery. Described as a white-haired gentleman wearing a double-breasted suit with a necktie, this ghost has been seen throughout the facility including the aging cellar and tasting room. Those who witnessed this apparition have said he is a kind spirit. Most of those witnesses feel the spirit is Georges de Latour, founder of Beaulieu Vineyards.
Across the road, Highway 29, to the west of Beaulieu is the former Inglenook Vineyard and Winery, now Rubicon. Based on witness accounts, this 19th century winery may have three different male ghosts. The first of this supernatural trio is thought to be the winery’s original founder and owner, Gustave Niebaum.
To the surprise of both guests and staff, he appears in the tasting room standing at the head of a table. From this vantage point, he surveys the wine inventory and orderliness of the hospitality center. He is described as being tall, slender with a long beard and extremely transparent.
On occasion, this purported ghost of Niebaum has also been seen walking around the third floor area to inspect the winemaking apparatus and equipment.
Then, just outside of the winery doors located at the north end of the building, a second male apparition has been seen. While descriptions vary, he is thought to be John Armstrong, Niebaum’s general manager.
The third spirit has been spotted wandering the winery grounds. Described as a middle-aged, dark-haired, handsome man dressed in white, the apparition is thought to be John Daniel, grand-nephew of Niebaum.
Other local viticultural landmarks also have reports of paranormal activities, including two icons located just north of St. Helena. The first is Beringer Winery established in 1876-77 by brothers Jacob and Frederick Beringer. The most spirited site on the property is the Rhine House. The winery has an overflowing file documenting all of the encounters.
The Rhine House was originally the private home of the Frederick Beringer family. In 1901, Frederick died of natural causes in his Rhine House bedroom, now the second floor Founders tasting room.
Regarding the ghostly encounters, one account tells of an evening just after closing as two employees were cleaning up downstairs when all of a sudden a loud crash came from upstairs. The two employees, each taking a different staircase, went upstairs. With no one passing either one on their way to the Founders room, they entered Frederick’s former bedroom to find a silver serving tray and stemware inexplicably strewn across the room.
The stories continue with others having heard mysterious foot-fall ascending the stairs when no one else was in the house. The most eerie of encounters, however, did profoundly frighten staff.
The paranormal activity file states that after hours, the night crew, while cleaning the Rhine House, has been startled, or worse, the sight of Frederick walking through the walls. For one crew member, that was too much! He ran out of the house and has never returned.
The neighboring Charles Krug Winery, just to the north and east of Beringer, is said to have a rather jocular spirit. This landmark winery was founded in 1861 by the 19th century patriarch of Napa Valley viticulture, Charles Krug. He died of natural causes at this property in 1892. In 1943, Cesare Mondavi purchased the property.
While neither confirmed nor denied, this winery’s ghost story tells a tale of a disembodied male voice laughing in three to five intervals of “Ha-ha-ha!” This auditory encounter usually occurs in the production area and near the aging cellar doors. While many mortals say this spirit is Krug, some feel it may be the patriarch of the Mondavi family, Cesare.
For as many local wineries, vineyards and bottles of wine, there is at least an equal number of stories about Napa Valley and County’s supernatural spirits.