This giant Welcome sign leads us to two good wine country stories. One is the sign itself, the other is the famous author of the sign’s displayed quote. Sonoma County has its Valley of the Moon wine country and Jack London. Napa Valley has Robert Louis Stevenson.
The Welcome Sign. Not counting those in composite multi-view Napa Valley postcards, ten different postcard views of the Welcome sign have been found to date, including a wine maiden sitting posed in front of the right-hand post (3 variations), one card has subtle lettering variations, autumn colored vines in another, and even one with a tilting letter “l” in the word “world” (photographer didn’t notice it? Or, more likely, thought it fun to document the lopsided world?) There are two signs, one for each end of the valley.
A b/w postcard rarity portrays an early 1950s vintage Welcome sign. There are ten vintner names listed, all founding members of the Napa Valley Vintners Assn. History says the original sign listed nine names. If there were postcards issued, I have not seen one.
The iconic pair of Napa Valley “Welcome posters” were erected in late 1949 and dedicated 1950 by the Napa Valley Vintners Assn, formed a few years earlier to provide the Valley winemen a “united front … and bring to the public’s attention the merits of Napa Valley wine.” The eye-catching and innovative see-thru design of carved redwood was achieved by Roland Hauck, local artist and advertising notable who had lived in nearby Wooden Valley since 1935. The signs, placed at either end of the valley on Highway 29, were originally each slightly different. The sign near Calistoga displayed the Stevenson quote in the cask-head, while the Oakville sign cask-head listed the group of nine founding Napa Valley Vintners Assn members. From the cards collected, subtle sign changes over the years are evident—at some early date the omission of Robert L. Stevenson’s name alongside his quote was noted and added, while the list of vintners was updated once, and then replaced with the Stevenson quote. With no doubt, the Welcome signs remain the most popular photo spots in the valley. P.S. And it is absolutely beautiful that Stevenson’s beloved praise of Napa Valley wines recorded in his 1883 Silverado Squatters should welcome all visitors to Napa wine country.
A Very Troubling Postcard. Just about two years ago, a “modern photo-reproduction postcard” of a very rare 1950 “Welcome sign” postcard with the list of 9 wineries in the cask- head was offered for sale on eBay. The scene includes a vintage blue ‘49 Buick parked in front of the sign. This “postcard” is very troubling. As described by the eBay seller, it is a photo reproduction of only the front side of a vintage postcard. When I asked him for a scan of the postcard back, he replied that he did not photograph the back and could not provide an image. The view of the Welcome sign itself is correct and verified by the photo illustration in Jim Lapsley’s Napa history, Bottled Poetry, p110. But the bright blue ‘49 Buick in the scene? It seems contrived, out of character, and I have never seen such an original. The seller’s offering is no longer on eBay. But I am happy to have the image, even if I tend to believe it is photo-shopped.
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894) portrait by Ernest Narjot, 1884. This is a masterful portrait postcard painted in 1884 and contemporary to the time of RLS’s stay in Napa Valley, happily newly married, but suffering from the effects of tuberculosis. In writing a book about living in an abandoned cabin on Mt. St. Helena and his visits with the winemen of the valley, he left a profound mark on Napa wine country.
Granite Marker on Mt. St. Helena. To remember Robert Louis Stevenson and his honeymoon stay on Mt. St. Helena in 1880, we thank the Club Women of Napa Co. who placed this granite Tablet in 1911 on the mountain at the site of the old mining cabin where Stevenson and his bride became squatters high above Napa Valley. The detailed, first-hand tales of visits to several valley wineries are related in the chapter “Napa Wine” in his Silverado Squatters story.
Silverado Museum, St Helena. Located in “The Hatchery,” a handsome 19th century landmark in downtown St. Helena, the Museum displays a world-class treasure trove of RLS first editions, manuscripts and memorabilia. The building itself has a rich history as the Taylor, Duckworth & Co. Foundry. Constructed in 1883 from native fieldstone, it has housed many businesses: the foundry (wine making equipment), a glove factory, a chicken hatchery, the original Robert Louis Stevenson Silverado Museum among them. Today there is a new Museum located next to the library.
Schramsberg, near Calistoga. In 1862, high on the western slope of Napa Valley, German-born Jacob Schram (1826–1905) founded his winegrowing “Schramsberg,” planting mostly fine white-wine varieties of German origin. By the end of the decade his wines were far-famed and “Schramsberg” became one of Napa Valley’s most respected and beloved wine estates. Here is where Robert Louis Stevenson famously — while his bride Fanny visited with Mrs Schram on the porch of the grand Victorian home pictured here — spent the day in 1880 tasting wine in the hand-hewn tunnels and wrote about it in his classic Silverado Squatters (1883). Today, for wine lovers, there are several, very handsome, fine press editions of Napa Wine. A Chapter from “Silverado Squatters.” Since the 1960s the Jack Davies family have restored, revived, and reestablished the Schramsberg name and estate, and produce some of the best sparkling wines in California.