As Halloween approaches, it’s the perfect season to remember that the Napa Valley has a rich and colorful past. Generations of Native Americans, Mexicans, pioneers, Italians, and Germans have lived and died here – some of them under violent or mysterious circumstances.
The Napa County Historical Society offers tours of Tulocay Cemetery, where you’ll hear the stories of some of the builders of Napa and visit grave sites of such local luminaries as Don Cayetano Juarez – one of the first white settlers in Napa County – and architect Luther Turton.
For self-guided tours, there are also pioneer graveyards in Yountville, Calistoga, and Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. And cemeteries in St. Helena contain graves of some of the valley’s most notable winemaking families.
If that’s not enough to satisfy your thirst for spookiness, you can check out some well-known wineries and hotels that have a skeleton or two in their closets and are said to remain haunted to this day.
Visitors to Beaulieu Vineyard in Rutherford have reported seeing the apparition of an older man, dressed in a double-breasted suit, in various rooms of the winery. Beaulieu staff believe him to be the ghost of Georges de Latour, who founded the winery in 1900. There have been no reports of any violent or frightening behavior – he just seems to be visiting the site of his viticultural achievements.
Charles Krug was once known as the patriarch of Napa Valley winemaking, and the Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena is one of the valley’s oldest. It’s now owned and managed by a branch of the Mondavi family after the winery was bought by Cesare Mondavi in 1943. A man’s laughter can often be heard in the winery production area near the cellar. No one’s sure if it’s Charles or Cesare, but the ghost seems to be a happy one.
Just south of Krug on St. Helena Highway is Beringer Vineyards, one of the largest wine producers in the U.S. Its historic Rhine House is the centerpiece of the estate, and looks transported from Bordeaux or Rhineland. It’s also a hub of ghostly activity – the staff maintains a large log of paranormal activity. Most frequent are reports from Frederick Beringer’s bedroom, where objects have mysteriously been catapulted. A male figure has also been seen walking the upstairs halls.
In Napa, just north of town, lies Trefethen Family Vineyards. Built in 1886 by Scottish sea captain Hamden McIntyre and run as Eschol (which means “valley of the grape” in Hebrew), it became a bootlegging operation during Prohibition from 1920 to 1933. Legend has it that a young man broke into the winery to steal some wine and was caught by bootleggers, who killed him at the winery. Modern visitors have often claimed to sense a dark presence in that area, or even see the shadow of a human form swinging from the ceiling.
In Napa Valley, "ghost wineries" were those built between 1860 and 1900, when the first wine boom occurred. During Prohibition, nearly all of these wineries were lost or destroyed. The AXR Winery property in St. Helena has continued throughout all of this, although it has changed ownership and names. Their history is rooted in historic tales of fierce Native American hunting grounds, wild west pioneers and the first woman vintner of California in 1886. Over the course of 130+ years it has been an inn, a restaurant, a saloon, a speakeasy, a brothel, and a winery.
Built in 1886 as the Hatt Mill Building, a warehouse and feed store, it is now the Napa River Inn in Downtown Napa. The son of the building's original owner (Captain Albert Hatt), Albert Jr. married a woman named Margaret in 1889 and together they had five children. Margaret died in 1906, and within a few years Albert Jr. also died inside the building, grief-stricken and in poor health. Room 208, the room directly above Sweetie Pies Bakery, and its neighboring rooms, have seen numerous reports of paranormal activity over the years.