A Beautiful Beginning: The Cultural Heritage Vintage 1870 Added To Yountville
"It’s amazing how people crave the simple goodness in life, when I look at the line at Bouchon bakery, there’s a quality aesthetic to our lives that we didn’t have before and it wasn’t long ago but it speaks by the amount of people who are coming here to stand in line for it,” Shelly Euser reflected.
Now retired from the Calistoga library and living in Napa, Shelly has fond memories of growing up in Yountville on her family’s farm off of State Lane and working in the building that now houses V Marketplace. “The Country Mouse was my first job, owned by Elsa Smith. I dusted these tiny things and after I had worked with her for some time she let me run the shop.”
"It was one of the busiest shops in the beginning, items included: fine linen napkins, handmade figurines, dried flower arranging accessories for the DIY-er, and high-end knick-knacks. She also carriedspecialty home fresheners in a multitude of fragrances, and unusual gifts.”
Imagine a time when the hills were untouched and few wineries existed. Remaining a dry town well after Prohibition ended, WWII Veteran Ray Monte, had purchased their family property and started a cattle ranch in 1955 and moved to the area fourteen years before Yountville was an incorporated town of Napa County.
“It was a lot of hard work to be a child growing up on a farm; you had two choices pick prunes or babysit.” At that time, children worked to earn money and began the new school year after the prune picking concluded.
Beside the Veteran’s home and the small school, there were few businesses and the Monte’s felt the potential for a community atmosphere. Nancy and Ray were instrumental in the liquor law reformation, Shelly said. “They wanted to create a lifestyle shift and leave the place they called home better than they found it… I have a lot of respect for them, for that. What they built was visionary planning,” she said.
The Monte family put their foot in the door to start improving day-to-day life for their family and friends by adding luxury and charm with the opening of a retail hub.
“In 1961 Dad began working for the County of Napa as the Veteran’s Service Officer. I remember working in the office with dad after school. Veterans from the Vietnam Conflict would come into the office seeking veterans’ benefits and Dad would give them the help they needed. He worked in that position for about eleven years,” she said.
In 1966 Ray and Nancy sold their herd and a portion of their property to buy Groezinger Winery; a defunct 22-acre parcel that had once been the largest operating winery in California. They decided to name the complex Vintage 1870 to honor the year the winery was built.
They brought in partners Ruth and Jim Wagner, Pam and Mike Soper, and Mortimer Bennett, to help clean up the building; among the to do-list, the large beams in the interior needed sandblasting.
“Our parents tasked us with cleaning all the debris off the floors which we thought was a never-ending job…but our perspectives changed when we started to uncover cement – we could roller skate! During a time when we kept ourselves entertained, this meant the world to us. It was a remarkable moment, as a child it seemed like a field of miles and miles of cement floor.” Previously she and her siblings eagerly awaited trips to their grandmother’s house in Napa to skate on the roads while TV’s were still in black and white.
Once the renovation was finished, retail shop space was parceled out to shop owners and artists. Today, we would liken their setup to a collective. As the sleepy town awoke, this new establishment grew popular quickly. There was no central heating, some would use small heaters and some had make-shift walls, others had only wrought iron enclosures.
The kick-off event they came up with to get people to visit their new establishment was a Wine and Art Festival. They gave away several thousand glasses with the admission fee. When they ran out of preordered glasses, they went to Robert Mondavi and he supplied even more. Traffic was completely backed up due to attendance in a time when no one was visiting the Valley to wine taste.
The building that now houses Pacific Blues was built as a train depot in the 1800s and was included in the Groezinger purchase. They cleaned it up and installed a wood stove and introduced the first espresso machine in town. It was the first café, which made for a great place to gather in the winter, Shelly remembered.
The first clothing store in Yountville started at Vintage 1870 and remains open today. It was first known as, “Sweet n Sassy” and in the 90’s owner Cathy Euser changed the name to I-ELLE (a loose French translation meaning, “I am she”). Chelsea Cortese, who lives in Napa, continues to own and operate both clothing stores her mother Cathy began including Simplicity By I-ELLE in the Sonoma square.
The Monte’s sold the remainder of their property at State Lane to purchase the Magnolia Hotel, which was in poor condition and took two years to restore and remodel. They opened the first Bed & Breakfast in the Napa Valley.
Hotel guests occupied four rooms with private baths on the second floor while the kitchen; lobby and dining took place on the first floor. Opening a European pastry shop on the premises shortly after the remodel was complete.
Shelly’s parents eventually sold the properties they owned but their legacy lives on. Just as the original venue, Vintage 1870, began as a collection of fine merchants and retail shops, the modern-day version, V Marketplace, still honors Nancy and Ray Monte’s vision, more than 50 years later. The history of this remarkable space may even echo the sounds of those roller skates on the cement floors - if you stand still and listen.