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The Legend of the ‘Old Soaked Oak'

The Legend of the ‘Old Soaked Oak'

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The bounty of Napa Valley and County has harvested more than viticultural and agricultural commodities. It has also produced an abundance of local legends and lore including the tale of the "Old Soaked Oak."

While wine-making has been a time-honored tradition in the valley for more than a century, it has been interrupted on occasion by social and political causes. One was Prohibition during the early 1900s.

While it was a serious matter, Prohibition and its enforcement did indirectly inspire an amusing local legend, rooted in the propensity of the U.S. Treasury agents to conduct surprise inspections to check the wine levels of American as well as local tanks, barrels and bottles.

The story begins when an agent appeared at Beringer Winery, located just north of St. Helena, to check and record the winery's tank and barrel levels. That inspection revealed there was a drop in fluid levels at Beringer. Although that loss was within an acceptable percentage due to natural causes - evaporation.

However, there was a problem with one of the larger Beringer wine tanks. It had an unusually significant and unacceptable drop of its fluid level. With further investigation and a subsequent inspection of that tank, it was discovered the tank had a serious crack hidden from view by the adjacent tanks. Under the direction of the Treasury agent, the tank was temporarily drained, then repaired, refilled and officially resealed.

While breathing a sigh of relief for having a valid reason for their wine loss, the Beringer family was inspired to spin a humorous yarn to explain the reason and cause for their initially failed wine level test. It became known as the legend of the "Old Soaked Oak."

This fable starts with a description of an oak tree on the Beringer property. A stately and old tree, this magnificent native oak proudly stood near the Beringer Winery cellar.

Over time this upright, grand old oak tree developed a bazaar new growth habit. Its massive and extensive limbs began to grow in an almost sagging or drooping manner with erratic undulations. Its new form was noticed by all of the Beringer family, friends and employees. It was a frequent topic of conversation at the winery. These discussions commonly included the preponderance of why the old oak tree was growing in that manner and what could have caused such a drastic and dramatic change in its growth habit.

As time wore on, this strange new form of the old oak tree grew even more bazaar. But still, no one had the slightest idea or even a clue as to the why, how or what was going on with the old oak tree. Even expert arborists were baffled by the tree's behavior.

Although it was a curiosity, life and work at the Beringer Winery continued on as usual including maintenance and repair work. As part of the latter, it was discovered one of the largest Beringer wine tanks was mysteriously losing a significant amount of its contents. Fearing a crack that could potentially lead to a dramatic and catastrophic failure of the tank, it was decided to empty the tank as soon as possible in order to inspect and repair it.

Gradually that tank's wine was transferred to other tanks and barrels. Then, once it was properly ventilated and safe to enter, the tank was to be inspected for mundane problems and damage like cracks and warping.

However, low and behold, the cellar master discovered that the base of the large wooden tank had been punctured by an enormous and curliqued section of a tree root. Further investigation revealed it was a root of the once stately, upright, old oak tree standing just outside of the cellar.

The legend claims that the grand old oak tree became so inebriated as it took up and absorbed more and more wine, it could no longer grow upright like a drunk who could not stand up. And so, the once stately and upright oak tree, now sprawling and lackadaisical, was nicknamed the "Old Soaked Oak."

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