Napa Valley with Kelli White

In the latest GuildSomm podcast, host MS  interviews , director of education for the Wine Center at Meadowood in Napa Valley, author of Napa Valley, Then & Now, and accomplished wine writer. Kelli discusses the history of Napa Valley, its regions, trends, and much more. 

Prior to her role at Meadowood, Kelli was the senior staff writer here at GuildSomm, where she wrote articles and expert guides on a wide range of topics and received two Roederer Awards for her work. Her writing has also appeared in World of Fine Wine, Robb Report, Sommelier Journal, Le Pan, and Vinous. Before venturing into writing and education, Kelli was a sommelier at New York City's Veritas and PRESS in St. Helena. Her acclaimed book, Napa Valley, Then & Now, was originally released in 2015; a reprint was recently issued. Head to for links to Kelli's writing and to learn more about Napa Valley, Then & Now.

Listen here or wherever you get your podcasts for a deep-dive on Napa Valley and great insights into the region. If you enjoy this episode, please leave us a review to support the show. Cheers!

In this episode:

Kelli A. White

Kelli A. White is the director of education for the Wine Center at Meadowood in Napa Valley. She was the senior staff writer at GuildSomm from 2017 to 2019. Her writing has also appeared in World of Fine Wine, Robb Report, Sommelier Journal, Le Pan, Vinous, and other publications. At Vinous, Kelli was a key member of the maps team and worked with Italian cartographer Alessandro Masnaghetti to map many of Napa Valley's appellations. Her book, Napa Valley, Then & Now, was first published in 2015. Kelli also contributed to the most recent editions of the World Atlas of Wine and the Oxford Companion to Wine, as well as the Academie du Vin books On California, On Champagne, and On Burgundy.

Prior to her work as a writer and educator, Kelli was a sommelier at Veritas in New York City and PRESS in St. Helena. She serves on the board of directors for the Wine Writers' Symposium and has a small wine brand called Houndstooth. Kelli lives in Napa Valley with her family.

Follow Kelli on Instagram.

Follow Kelli on LinkedIn.

Read Kelli's GuildSomm articles.

Read our Napa Valley Expert Guide, written by Kelli.

Order a copy of Napa Valley, Then & Now.

New Napa Valley Content on GuildSomm

  • Great listen! I really like the way Kelli talks about wine. It really is unfortunate (and ironic given the subject matter) that the secondary market forced her to price out a whole lot of people with this printing. Good for her that the demand is there, but capitalism strikes again! 

  • Another thing, I imagine climate change had a lot of impact on Napa. Not just in recent years, but Charles Krug is directly across the street from the CIA in St. Helena, and I remember learning that Charles Krug started his vineyards with what he knew, similar to the Joseph Phelps' winemaker. Apparently, he didn't just plant riesling; he planted riesling on the valley floor of St. Helena, which is one of the hottest nested AVAs in Napa. Today, I can't imagine planting really anything other than hot climate grapes, Cabernet, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Zinfandel. But I know climate change must have been really intense, not just because of Charles Krug, but because of Pope Valley Winery. Pope Valley is located on the eastern side of Howell Mountain. Super hot and dry. You feel like you're in the Old West (one of the main streets is named Stagecoach Road). But Pope Valley Winery was started in the late 1800s, and inside the cellar is an old sign that states they were making Burgundy-style wines. Imagine being able to produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in a somewhat Burgundy-style in Napa, but not just on the valley, where you get the morning fog from San Pablo Bay, but on the mountain slopes of Howell Mountain, where Merlot, Cabernet, and other hot climate grapes currently thrive

  • Great listen! I went to the CIA in St. Helena for both AOS and the beverage concentration. During the beverage concentration, we had classes on the history of Napa/California, and I did some research on zinfandel. The reason why zinfandel became so popular is, like Kelli said, because mining was a thirsty job. But zinfandel, in particular, didn't require trellising, unlike other grapes. And this was important because at the time, there wasn't enough timber for viticulture, as it was all used up in the mines and canals. Interesting enough, the Sierra Foothills had a large number of wineries as well during the Gold Rush. When the Gold Rush came to an end, the miners moved closer to San Francisco, and so the wineries lost business because Napa and Sonoma were easier to get to. That's the same story for how Medoc became more popular than St.-Emilion, Pomerol, and the rest of the Right Bank--Medoc was easier to get to from Bordeaux than the Right Bank. However, unlike the Bordeaux vineyards, the Sierra Foothill vineyards, despite losing popularity, were able to remain isolated from the rest of California, leading to some of the vineyards being unaffected by Phylloxera.