Three decades ago, on my first visit to Napa valley, I stopped by Beringer for a tasting. I didn’t know much about Beringer at the time, mostly that they had a long history and made some well-regarded wines. Back then, tastings were free, but a friend had given me a tip to skip that and head upstairs to the Founders room, where you could sample Beringer’s best wines for $10. As a bonus, there was a crowd downstairs, but I had upstairs nearly to myself. I left that session with a life-long affinity and appreciation of what Cabernets from Napa could be like. (Today, the basic tasting is $45, and the high-end samplings are $125 or $150, depending on which way you go.)
In 1868, Jacob Beringer, enticed by the opportunities of the new world, sailed from his home in Mainz, Germany, to New York. However, after hearing that the rocky hillside soil and fertile valley floor of Napa Valley resembled that of vineyards back home in Germany, Jacob made his way to California in 1869. He became cellar foreman for Charles Krug, one of the first commercial winemakers in Napa Valley. A few years later, in 1875, Jacob and his brother, Frederick, purchased 215 acres next door to Charles Krug in St. Helena for $14,500. This parcel of land, known as Los Hermanos (the brothers), became the heart of the Beringer estate.
Here, the brothers oversaw their first harvest and crush in 1876. With Jacob serving as winemaker and Frederick as financier, they made approximately 40,000 gallons of wine, or 18,000 cases, that first year. In order to house the fermentation tanks, the first two floors of the original winery were built, and Chinese workers began digging a 1,200-foot-long tunnel to store the wine for aging.