Joseph Ballinger Chiles (cheye-els) was one of the people who received a land grant from Mexico in the 1800s. Like most people in the 1800’s, Chiles was not interested in grapes. The area he acquired was a source of tin and later, gypsum.
His land is now part of the Chiles Valley AVA in Napa, an area of 6,000 acres with one-sixth planted in grapes. Although a valley, it sits in the Vaca Mountains at an elevation higher than Napa valley. Its higher elevation provides the cool breezes needed to grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and a few other varietals.
The wild fires of 2020 scorched Chiles Valley. When I drove through last year, burned areas were evident on one side of the road and the other side spared. The region is mostly a grape growing area, with only two or three wineries open for tasting. It is a wonderful area to visit because unlike the hip and flashy tasting rooms, restaurants, and lodging in Napa, Chiles looks untouched. Old barns, worn wooden fences, and expansive views of vine-planted fields made my drive through this area worthwhile.
The Volker-Eisle Family Estate, whose vineyards I toured and wine I tasted, is one of the best I’ve visited in the Napa area.