Rebecca Yerger Memory Lane: Agriculture business in Napa Valley, circa 1890
Memory Lane

Rebecca Yerger Memory Lane: Agriculture business in Napa Valley, circa 1890


The Napa Valley agriculture-based companies have always been a significant contributor to the local economy. Two such agri-businesses of the late 1800s were the Napa Fruit Company and Napa Valley Wine Company.

“A Successful Year,” declared a springtime 1898 Napa Daily Journal headline, “Reports of the Officers of the Napa Fruit Company Very Assuring.” The article stated the stockholders held their annual meeting the prior afternoon to review the final harvest and sales reports of the previous season.

Their financial report disclosed, “The corporation is $1,500 richer.” Their production report stated, the Napa Fruit Company “has dried more fruit, at less expense, and earned far more money than during any previous year.”

To substantiate that claim, the Napa Fruit Company supplied the following data. “Last season 1,025 tons of green (fresh) fruit was dried, about 700 tons of which was prunes. The prices received for prunes...(averaged) about $32 per green ton. The receipts to date amount to $9,704.28, and about $4,000 more will be received shortly for fruit about to be sold. That will close up this season’s business.”

As for the industry’s immediate future, the newspaper wrote, “The Journal reporter questioned a number of the gentlemen present at the meeting as to the fruit outlook for the present year, and the opinion was expressed that more money will come into the valley for fruit than ever before.”

Besides prunes and grapes, the other fruits commercially grown in Napa County included apricots, apples, cherries and plums. These fruits were processed and dried at the firm’s Vallejo Street facility in Napa.

Another important and thriving late 1800s Napa County agriculture-based business was viticulture. A late 19th century Napa County Reporter article disclosed the activities of one such local viticulture business—the Napa Valley Wine Company.

According to the 1886 Reporter, “the Directors of the Napa Valley Wine Company determined to lease a lot in Napa and erect a wine cellar, for the purpose of manufacturing and maturing wine this coming season. Since then the committee having the matter in charge have leased a lot, 180 x 240 feet in dimensions in East Napa, just west of the Cannery, and adjoining the river, and as early as next week will commence the erection of a wooden building 60 x 150 feet, which will be ample for this season’s vintage. This building with fixtures, machinery, etc., and not counting the lot, will cost about $5,000.”

This structure once stood south of Third Street between the railroad tracks and the eastern banks of the Napa River.

The company took an 18-month option on the Soscol Avenue property. On a trial basis, they also agreed to a one-year commitment to locate in Napa. In anticipation that Napa would prove to be a good place for their winery and cellar, the Napa Valley Wine Company had already commissioned and received preliminary expansion plans. The Reporter explained further: “next year an expensive and thoroughly equipped cellar will be erected to take the place of the building now about to be put up.”

The Reporter added, “The reasons that led the Napa Valley Wine Company to select Napa City for the scene of their wine-making operations were its unsurpassed climate, its reputation as a wine center and because they would have the advantage of shipping to San Francisco by water.”

During the 1800s through the early 1900s, the Napa River provided an efficient means of transporting both goods and people via steamship.

The article continued, “Messrs. M.M. Estee, Geo. E. Goodman, C.R. Gritman, the gentlemen who have interests in the company, with Mr. Prieber, manager of the San Francisco cellar and sampling rooms, located the place for the cellar Friday morning and attended to other business connected with the project.”

Regarding that “other business,” the Reporter wrote, “About two-hundred thousand gallons of cooperage have been ordered and will arrive in a few days. The company expects to have everything ready this fall in time to crush this season’s vintage of grapes, and think they will make about 150,000 gallons of wine. The company will purchase the lumber themselves and will give the building contract of the cellar to some one in a few days.”

As illustrated by these two articles, 19th century Napa County agri-businesses enjoyed the benefits of the area’s diverse and profitable harvests.

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