1881 Napa is Napa Valley’s newest tasting room and first and only Napa Wine History Museum. Located in Oakville, next to the Oakville Grocery, in a beautifully restored Victorian house, 1881 Napa seamlessly blends history, education, beauty and amazing wine into one experience.
Before heading into 1881 Napa we had to check out what was new at Oakville Grocery. Oakville Grocery was founded in the 1870s as a central hub for the tiny community of Oakville. It is one of the oldest continually run retail businesses in California and continues the tradition of a meeting place today. Jean-Charles Boisset, owner of Raymond and JCB, recently purchased Oakville Grocery and is working to restore it to the local facing grocery it once was. Walking in you are immediately greeted by a large cheese case, the smell of roasting coffee and a busy deli. One of the new additions, I can’t wait to try, is the wine dispensers that gives out tastes, half glasses or full glasses pours of Napa Valley Wines, a selection that has included cult favorite Screaming Eagle!
After exploring Oakville Grocery we walked across the courtyard and into 1881 Napa. The first thing you notice when you walk into the space is the amazing Baccarat Chandelier. The Chandelier is one of the largest and heaviest (300 pounds!) in the United States. The Chandelier is the perfect centerpiece for the tasting space, along with a reproduction of an 1895 Napa County map that hangs from the ceiling..
Before we started the tasting we decided to explore the FREE Napa Wine History Museum that is located on the second floor of the house. The museum blends photos and artifacts in the “Founders Gallery” to tell the story of the early wine industry in Napa Valley. My favorite historical tidbit that I learned was that George Yount had a dream which helped to rescue the Donner Party, many of who then settled throughout the Napa Valley. In addition to the “Founders Gallery” the museum features nearly 200 handcrafted vineyard, cooperage and winery tools. This antique viticulture collection was derived from a large collection housed in Burgundy, France. This impressive exhibit represents state-of-the-art viticulture, cooperage and wine making in the late 1800s when Napa Valley’s founding pioneers brought European grapes, wine growing and wine making techniques to the region. In case you want more history, the museum also features display cases with artifacts from the Early California Wine Trade Archive . The Napa Valley Wine History Museum is the perfect free activity for both non-wine drinkers and wine drinkers alike.
After exploring the museum it was time for our tasting! All tastings are seated on the ground floor of the house under the magnificent chandelier. We were settled into a comfortable table against one of the large windows. Ali, our host, splashed us with a taste their amazing rosé and explained a little about 1881 Napa’s tastings and purpose. With the help of famed wine author and expert Karen Macneil, 1881 Napa’s tasting experiences are designed to educate guests on how the wines produced in Napa’s 16 AVAs differ and what makes each unique. Currently, 1881 is producing Cabernet Sauvignon from 12 of the 16 Napa AVAs and is working on producing one from each! 1881 Napa is the only location in Napa Valley where you can taste every single AVA in one sitting.
Currently 1881 is offering two tasting flights of four wines: Majestic Mountains vs Plush Valleys and Is It Cool To Be Hot or Hot To Be Cool?. flights as well as the Embark on a Journey Throughout the Valley where you can taste all 12 of 1881’s Cabs. We all decided to do the Majestic Mountains vs Plush Valleys. The tasting consists of two mountain cabs and two valley floor cabs. It is designed to explore the difference between mountain fruit and valley floor fruit. All of 1881’s wines are small production high quality wines with only around 15 cases of each!
The first two wines we tried were the 2016 Rutherford and 2016 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon. Both were great examples of valley floor cabernets. Easy to drink with soft tannins and hints of cherry and black fruit. I could easily see myself sitting on the porch drinking the Oakville Cabernet on a cool Yountville evening. On the complete opposite end of the scale was the two Mountain Cabernets, Atlas Peak and Howell Mountain. The Howell Mountain was big and bold with lots of tannins and made you immediately crave a steak dinner. The Atlas Peak, my favorite of the day, was well balanced with subtle hints of chocolate.
With so many wineries and tasting experiences in Napa Valley it can be hard to decide where to spend your time. If you are looking for a fun educational experience with amazing wine and an appreciation for what makes Napa Valley unique look no further than 1881 Napa.