Our Celebrated Valley, with its Roots in Wine Grapes, Creates the Legacy for Knights Bridge
Situated at the foot of Mount St. Helena, just north of Calistoga, the beautiful Knights Valley holds a special fascination. Located in a narrow valley bordering the Mayacamas mountain range that divides Sonoma and Napa Counties, this easternmost Sonoma County appellation, known for its warm days and cool nights, is the warmest viticultural region in the county. The valley’s beauty and mineral-rich volcanic rhyolitic (volcanic) soils are as prized today as they were in ancient times.
For centuries, its sloping hillsides of native oaks, Madrones, Manzanita and its rich fertile valley floor was home to the peaceful Wappo tribe of Native American Indians who settled the area some 4,000 years ago and who referred to Mount St. Helena as Kana’mota – the “human mountain.”
In the early 1800’s, the Spanish began occupying the area and setting up land grants or ranchos. During this time 17,740 acres of Knights Valley and Franz Valley were deeded over to Jose de Santos Berryessa, and named Rancho Mallacomes. An adobe hunting lodge was built, becoming the first modern structure in the valley. Following the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846 and the Mexican War, California became a state in 1850. In 1853 Berryessa sold 8,328 acres of Rancho Mallacomes to settler Thomas Knight who planted vineyards, wheat, peaches, apples and raised sheep. He also built a sawmill on Kellogg Creek. The valley was given his name and he and his family lived there for over 20 years.
Other pioneers started to settle Knights Valley, planting more wine grapes and wheat while continuing to raise sheep. A beautiful Victorian mansion was built by Calvin and Ella Holmes in the 1870s, and George Hood built a fine ranch nearby. In 1871, Clark Foss built an impressive hotel, stables and a small stagecoach stop called Fossville, north of the town of Calistoga and near the growing town of Kellogg. From Fossville regularly scheduled stagecoaches traveled between Knights Valley and Lake County, transporting goods and people.
Railroad Plans Derailed
In 1875, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors formed the Knights Valley Township. By the late 1880’s, plans were underway to bring a railroad from Napa to Calistoga, then north into Knights Valley. The brainchild of Holmes and another local entrepreneur, Sam Brannon, the railroad would have provided an easy way to transport grapes to Charles Krug winery, a large purchaser of Knights Valley wine grapes. In anticipation of the railroad, plans were developed to expand the little town of Kellogg into a resort destination. The plans called for 200 lots to be sold at auction along with a hotel, a general store, guest cottages, a school, and a winery yet to be built. The railroad never reached Kellogg and the little town never realized its dream of becoming a resort location. Eventually, most of the original buildings were abandoned and lost through a series of wildfires.
Other ventures in the area were much more successful. Between 1875 and 1900 the Great Western Quicksilver Mine Company, located on the border of Sonoma and Lake Counties, became the most important mercury producing mine in California. At its peak, the mine shipped between 27,000 and 31,500 tons of mercury per year to be used in gold mining operations. Located some 45 miles outside Calistoga, the mine transported the quicksilver by horse-drawn wagon over rough mountain roads, which sometimes took an entire week of rough travel to reach Calistoga. There, it was shipped by rail to San Francisco.
While some ventures failed in Knights Valley, growing premium wine grapes has been an ongoing success. Over the years, wine grapes not only helped preserve the valley’s natural beauty and agricultural heritage, they helped establish Knights Valley as a premier source of grapes for fine wines. By 1912, wine grapes were Knights Valley’s most planted crop and the quality of its fruit became legendary. For example, such great Napa Valley wineries as Chateau Montelena, Beaulieu Vineyards and Beringer all used Knights Valley grapes.
Over the last two hundred years, Knights Valley has been celebrated not only in wine, but in books and art as well. Robert Lewis Stevenson’s book “Silverado Squatters” was written in a mountain cabin on Mount St. Helena overlooking Knights Valley. And the famous 19th century Hudson River School artist Thomas Hill immortalized Knights Valley and Mount St. Helena on canvas in a series of paintings done in the “plein air” style.
Today, the valley and vineyards of Knights Valley continue to inspire, producing world-class Chardonnay and Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc that consistently earn acclaim from critics and wine lovers alike. This special place continues to enshrine the rough beauty and ambition of the West, but contains within it a classic finesse and style that makes this one of the most unique wine-growing regions in the world.