“As a successful wine-maker, Mr. crabb is without peer in the State.”
Frona Wait, Wines & Vines of California, 1889

The eldest son of Henry and Esther Crabb, H. W. Crabb was born on July 4, 1828, in Jefferson County, Ohio. Although there was a burgeoning wine scene in Ohio at the time, the Crabbs had no association with it. Crabb’s father was a successful blacksmith, and his brother, John, was known as a vehement teetotaler. When Crabb’s father died, his mother sold the family farm, and Crabb left, first heading to New Orleans and eventually ending up in California, where he dreamed of finding gold in the Sierra foothills.

By 1853, Crabb had abandoned his quest for gold and moved to San Lorenzo in Alameda County, California. Twenty-five years old at the time, he tried unsuccessfully to cultivate corn at his San Lorenzo estate but had some measure of luck establishing an orchard. He was soon exhibiting his fruit at agricultural fairs and, in 1860, was asked to serve on the board of the Alameda County supervisors. His wife at the time, Rebecca, died just two years later, leaving him to care for their children, Amanda, Adda, and Horace. In 1864, Crabb married Elizabeth Carmer, and together they had one child, Cora Crabb.

In 1993, the Oakville AVA was established after years of discussion by vintners to determine the boundaries. The final borders reach 500 feet (152 meters) in elevation in the western Mayacamas and 1,006 feet (306 meters) in elevation in the eastern Vaca Range. Today, the association has over seventy vintner and grower members.

After the Civil War, the nation was restless but hopeful. Crabb, now forty years old, moved his family to Napa, purchasing a modest property at the northwest corner of what is today known as Highway 29 at Walnut Lane. They lived not far from the banks of the Napa River, just outside the busy village of Oakville. Entrepreneurial by nature, Crabb quickly purchased an additional 240 acres (97 hectares) of land from George Yount’s son-in-law. It was 1865, and Yount, like Crabb, was an entrepreneur, rancher, and fur trapper. The town of Yountville is named after him.

An 1878 illustration of Crabb’s To Kalon Vineyard.

Yount’s son-in-law had left the property in disrepair, and Crabb immediately went about rehabilitating the estate. He built a train depot at the southwest corner of the property, established fruit and nut orchards, and planted extensive wheat and hay fields as well as his first vineyard: 70 acres (28 hectares) of Muscat of Alexandria, producing table grapes and raisins. The railroad station proved advantageous, facilitating the shipment of Crabb’s goods around the state of California and beyond. He named his vineyard Hermosa, Spanish for “gorgeous.” But in 1886, he abandoned that name and rechristened the vineyard To Kalon, Greek for “the call of beauty,” at the same time setting about to improve the quality of his wines, the seriousness of his grape growing, and the scope of his vision.

Among the wineries, Oakville Grocery is a must-see destination for visitors. Established in 1881, it is the oldest continuously operating grocery store in Napa Valley, offering local products and provisions.

Crabb went on to acquire the adjacent property for a total of 359 acres (145 hectares) and began producing up to 200,000 gallons (7,570 liters) of wine annually, placing him in the same ranks as Charles Krug and Jacob Schram, Napa’s leading wine producers at the time. The To Kalon wines gained notoriety and went on to win awards nationally and at European expositions, where Crabb earned the respect of his colleagues and the media, with the Chicago Tribune declaring him the “Wine King of the Pacific Slope” and journalist Frona Eunice Wait writing that he was “without peer in the State” in her book Wines & Vines of California. During this era, Crabb was often featured in newspapers and magazines, with articles focusing on his renown as a gifted winemaker and successful businessman. He was the darling of the St. Helena Star, which in 1886 described the To Kalon estate as having “the appearance of a young town, in fact being more of a place than many a California city.” He appeared regularly in the Napa Valley Register, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Merchant, and Breeder and Sportsman. Between 1870 and 1890, he was featured at least once in most major publications.

In 1979, California’s Robert Mondavi and Bordeaux’s Baron Philippe de Rothschild created a French-American joint-venture wine called Opus One. Today the winery is an architectural icon in Oakville.

By 1889, To Kalon had expanded, covering 527 acres (213 hectares) of prime grape-growing land. Crabb took a shine to grape growing, experimenting with many grape varieties, including Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Refosco, and Mondeuse, which was referred to as “Crabb’s Black Burgundy” before Prohibition. A leader in innovation, he developed a method for shipping grapes on ice and shipped his wine, in cases and bulk, via a broad wine distribution network he had established that reached New Orleans, the Midwest, and the Eastern Seaboard.

At the height of To Kalon’s success, Crabb was known as a serious collector of grapevines, with 180 grape varieties under root, many for the purposes of experimentation. He spoke widely on viticultural topics and experimented with phylloxera-resistant rootstock. He served on viticultural boards, including the Board of State Viticultural Commissioners, and authored numerous publications, including a chapter in George Husmann’s American Grape Growing and Wine Making. During his lifetime, he was regarded as a leading national authority on viticulture, soil quality, and winemaking. After his death in 1899, H. W. Crabb was recognized as a pioneer of the Napa Valley and as “one of the most successful and experienced viticulturists” in California. Today, To Kalon is considered one of the most celebrated vineyard designates in the world and is emblematic of the enological greatness that can be achieved in Napa Valley.

Architecture, landscape, and mountainous beauty culminate to provide visitors with endless beauty.

An original sales sheet for H. W. Crabb’s To Kalon wines.

Crabb set a high bar with To Kalon, and others who came later were challenged to follow his example. Along with Peter Michael Winery, those producers include Far Niente Winery, Robert Mondavi Winery, Groth Vineyards and Winery, Dalle Valle, Screaming Eagle Winery and Vineyards, Harlan Estate, Detert Family Vineyard, Opus One Winery, MacDonald Vineyards, Nickel & Nickel, Rudd Estate, Plumpjack Winery, Morlet Family Vineyards, and Gamble Family Vineyards. A list of their offerings is a who’s who of some of America’s most coveted, collectible wines. H. W. Crabb set an unparalleled standard so that others might pursue the call of beauty.

Traditional wine-country landscaping lends to the beauty of the scenery.