A ghost winery is a relic of the Napa Valley's thriving late 1800s winemaking culture. The Napa Valley is widely recognized today as one of the premier winemaking regions in the world, with a number of prominent wines and winemakers coming from this region of California. Many people are surprised to learn that the winemaking history of the Napa Valley long predates the infamous Judgment of Paris in 1976, when upstart California wines beat out a number of famous French wines in a blind tasting.
Wine cultivation in the Napa Valley really took off in the mid-1800s, with a huge number of wineries opening from 1860 to 1900 and making a range of wines. However, Napa's wine production began to falter in the early 20th century, first because of Prohibition, and then because of the Depression. Wineries also struggled with grape pests which decimated some harvests. Many wineries were forced to close their doors, and their equipment and facilities were allowed to decay until the 1970s, when the Napa Valley wine industry was rejuvenated, and some people made efforts to preserve the rich history of the region's wineries.
A ghost winery can take two forms. The first is that of a working winery. A working ghost winery has often been substantially renovated, and it may resemble its 1800s counterpart in name only, with new equipment, aging caves, and facilities. A handful of working ghost wineries still have older vines in place, and some have preserved outbuildings and equipment from the 1800s as curiosities. Some also use the original wine caves to age and store special edition wines.
It is estimated that the number of working ghost wineries numbers in the dozens, including establishments like the Hall Winery, Storybook Mountain Vineyards, Château Montelena, and the Franco-Swiss Winery near Saint Helena. It is possible to go on a guided tasting of Napa's ghost wineries, and such trips can be very interesting, for those who are interested in the history of California wines and California in general.
More commonly, a ghost winery is no longer a winery at all. Some private homes in the Napa Valley are actually converted wineries, as are some shopping centers and businesses. While these facilities no longer produce wines, traces of the past can sometimes be uncovered, especially in the case of renovations where the winemaking tradition of the site has been preserved. For example, some businesses located on the site of a ghost winery have retained wine barrels and pressing equipment.