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September 27, 2019 - Norman Bentley

I first published this article about ten years ago, and again about five years ago. There may be some readers who have not read it, and others who don't remember, but its a little slice of the past. I hope you enjoy the sojourn back to Napa in the 1950's. Norm

Norm’s Tasting Notes

By: Norm Bentley

The North Georgia Wine Advisor


My first visit to a Napa winery was in 1952. I was five years old and rode to the Christian Brothers Winery on top of a truck load of red grapes driven by my father. He was hired by a friend to drive the truck and deliver the grapes to the winery, and I got to go along for what was probably a four or five mile ride. I have been in grapes and wine ever since.

As we turned into the entrance I was awe-struck by the massive monastery-looking building with its ivy covered walls. This picturesque building, of course, has been recaptured dozens of times in drawings, paintings and photos, and at one time was synonymous with Napa Valley wines.

The Napa Valley of 1952 was quite different than it is today. There were probably no more than nine or ten wineries in the county at that time, and the valley was hardly covered with vineyards. Instead there were small farms and ranches and I can remember at least two dairies, one of which we visited on horseback on several occasions. There were lots of orchards, most of which were apricot and prune. Many of the hillsides now covered in grape vines had sheep grazing on them, and a few of the ranchers raised cattle, but not in large numbers There were many small properties in the five to ten acre size, which at the time were called ranchettes. These small ranches were usually the home of horsemen who had a barn and a small pasture for their riding horses. At the time you could almost always see people on horseback riding along Big Ranch Road, The Silverado Trail, or the Old Sonoma Road.

My grandfather, James Harrison Bentley, had a chicken ranch on Old Sonoma Road where he raised “broilers” and laying hens. Across the road from his farm was a hillside which always had sheep grazing on it. His old farm is now a vineyard and so is the sheep ranch across the road.

My grandfather was a second generation native born Californian who had been born in Napa County in 1886, and lived almost all of his life in Napa County, until his death in 1975. He was an orchard-man and a chicken rancher, but his career in public service to the county is what he is best remembered for. He was a member of the Napa County Planning Commission for thirty years and for a number of years was the Chairman of the Mosquito Abatement Commission. The Mosquito Commission had a hot line to report mosquitoes, and in the 1960’s my grandfather used to brag that the phone had not rung in years.

In the 1950’s the people of Napa County enjoyed a pastoral life and were afraid that this peaceful valley would be encroached upon by the growing and expanding city of San Francisco. To protect the agricultural setting the county passed an ordinance, suggested by the Napa County Planning Commission, to prohibit building on less than twenty acres of land anywhere in the unincorporated areas of the county. Unknowingly, the Planning Commission and my grandfather Harrison Bentley, had preserved the Napa Valley for its future status of “grape vineyard to the world”.

One of my grandfather’s favorite stories was of a trip he and my grandmother had taken in the early 1960’s to visit the Grand Canyon. Harrison struck up a conversation with a distinguished looking gentleman from New York as they were gazing out over the canyon. The man said that he was a retired New York City banker and that he and his wife had been traveling the world for over five years, and had been to almost every scenic site on the planet. He turned to my grandfather and said, “But, you know of all the places we have been, there is one place that stands out as the most beautiful spot in the world. Have you ever heard of the Napa Valley?”

My grandfather never took another vacation away from the valley after that, for as he used to say, “I already live in the most beautiful place in the world. Why go anywhere else?

I have been to many wonderful spots in the world, and have not lived in the Napa Valley since I was a child, but it is still the most beautiful place in the world to me. Lucky for me that being in the wine business and having lots of family in California gives me the opportunity to frequently visit the “Grape Vineyard to the World”.


Available online at:

Pine Island



Also Available at AOL”s Dunwoody Patch:

Dunwoody, GA Patch

WINE – God’s Proof of his Love for Humanity


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