by Fred McMillin
for May 10, 1999


When Napa Was Railroaded

The Transcontinental Railway
Completed, May 10, 1869


With the new railroad connection, "California wine shipments to the rest of the nation rose to record levels.

...Prof. J. Baxevanis

The Rest of the Story

Sutter Home Napa led the charge to use this new outlet. It was the first wine county to have a rail line its entire length. In fact, it was completed a year before the national linkup. Sonoma had not yet laid any tracks.

In 1873 the Napa press said, "The railroad, by giving us the means of rapid communication... with the East, has awakened the County from its long slumber. If the Napa railroad were to be removed, a million dollars would not cover the loss." (William Heintz)

A Rough Trip

Two years after those comments were written, California wine shipments by rail exceeded those by sea. However, the shipments were in large casks on unrefrigerated box cars. (To avoid excess temperatures en route, Thomas Jefferson would specify the month his wines should be shipped to him from Europe.) So, not suprisingly, soon wine arriving in the East was improved by packing the box cars with ice. Now, on to today's wine.

The year that our eastern and western rail lines were connected at Promontory Point in Utah, that is, 1869, a new wine was created. A gold miner from Massachusetts, George West, produced the first White Zinfandel. (Baxevanis)

So, since we're talking Napa today, our wine is from the Valley's largest White Zin firm, Sutter Home. How many bottles of the pink have they sold? Over 400 million! Their latest version is called Portico, described in the December 21,1998 WineDay titled, " Portico Will Stop The Show." There are three models, each with different, unfermented fruit juices added. My panel has carefully retasted them all. Their favorite had raspberry added.

The Wine

1997 Sutter Home Portico with Raspberry
Service—45 to 60 minutes in the frig.
Rating—HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for White Zin fans. RECOMMENDED for those who try new white wines.
Price—$5 range


It didn't take Sonoma County long to recognize the railroad's potential. How long after Napa finished its system did Sonoma lay its first rail? One year.

Credits: Charles Sullivan's Napa Wine;
Research Assistant—Diane Bulzomi

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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