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The 1880’s in Napa Valley is known as “The Golden Age of Wine.” During this decade, Napa County wineries increased from 49 to 166, planted grape vines increased from 3,500 acres to over 18,000 acres and wine produced in Napa County won more awards at the first open international competition in France in 1889 than any other California region. It was also during this historic time that two brothers, owners of a successful shirtmaking business in Philadelphia and San Francisco, purchased 153 acres of vacant land south of Rutherford in 1881.
Louis and Joseph Atkinson purchased the property, which was part of the original land grant deeded to George Yount, paying $15,300 cash. The brothers planted vines and began construction on the Queen Anne Victorian home but, sadly, a year later, Louis died after succumbing to a long illness. Joseph sold the shirtmaking company and over the next decade distinguished himself by planting 115 acres of vines, being appointed trustee of the Rutherford School, investing in the new St. Helena Bank and sitting on the bank board of directors. In 1895, Joseph partnered with California State Senator Seneca Ewer to build Ewer & Atkinson Winery, now Beaulieu Vineyards. Their wines won awards at the 1888 state Viticulture Convention in San Francisco and the following year at the World’s Fair in Paris. By 1889, Joseph was among the wealthiest men in Napa County based on property values, achieving financial success on par with fellow vintners, Charles Krug and Gustave Niebaum.
Unfortunately, this historic period came to an end in the 1890s when phylloxera wiped out the vineyards in Napa County as well as other parts of California. By 1900, Atkinson had lost all his vines and consequently fell into financial trouble. In 1901, foreclosure forced the sale of the 153 acres at auction for $18,000. It was Edward St. Supéry, a French winemaker and part of Napa Valley’s French colony located in Oakville that purchased the property. Not until 1957 and several owners later, did grapevines once again grow on the property.
A living testament to this incredible history is The Atkinson Queen Anne Victorian that sits next to the St. Supéry Winery and has survived almost unchanged over the last 136 years. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the original materials, workmanship and design elements remain the same including the solid oak wood floors, wood trimmed doors and moldings, the prominent wrap-around porch and the distinctive tower with its tent roof. Less than ten rural Queen Anne buildings remain in Napa County and we have spent the last few months restoring the home to highlight its historic beauty.
September 1, 2017