The Highly Spirited – Beringer Brothers Winery

The Highly Spirited – Beringer Brothers Winery

By Rebecca Yerger

The Rhine House 1884 WP


October is a very spirited month in Napa Valley and County as winemaking and ghost stories abound. One Napa Valley winery, well known for both, is Beringer Brothers Winery, with its iconic Rhine House, fine wines and, it is said, extraordinary paranormal activity.

Beringer Brothers, located near the northern edge of St. Helena, was founded in 1876 by its namesakes – Jacob and Frederick Beringer. Jacob was the visionary who made the wines and managed their winery. Jacob also supervised the construction of the winery buildings and wine-aging caves. The cornerstone for the first winery building was laid in March, 1877. A year later,  Chinese laborers began excavating the caves.

The first Beringer Winery ghost story involves those very caves and laborers. The late Kathleen Kernberger, a local historian and author, recounted the story told to her by her aunt, Virginia Hanrahan. She spoke of how, on windy nights, crying and sad moans would come from deep within the caves. According to Hanrahan, those sorrowful sounds were the wails of the ghosts of the Chinese laborers who had been entombed deep within the caves. That theory was dispelled when records proved that no laborers had been buried there.

Kernberger also explained the eerie sounds were created by strong winds forcing air through fissures in the rocks. Following the application of a spray-on, cement compound throughout the caves, those openings were sealed off, which silenced the chilling wails and moans. However, even after the caves had been coated with that compound, people continue to report feeling exceptionally cold spots in the caves, and hearing faint whispers of the long-since-gone Chinese laborers. Also, photographs of the caves frequently capture images of odd orbs of light.

Returning to Jacob and the creation of the iconic winery; he and his family lived in the L-shaped, wood-frame farmhouse, originally built around 1860 by David Hudson, an early Napa County pioneer settler. However, this residence, with its Greek Revival influenced architectural features of a low pitched, gable roof with a wide band of trim, front porch supported by prominent columns and overall symmetrical form was originally located about where the Rhine House stands today. The Hudson House was moved to its present location using logs placed under the house and rolling it into its current position.

Frederick, the financier and promoter of their winery, was accustomed to living in grand style. In 1883 he commissioned San Francisco architect, A. Schropfer to design his country wine-estate home which was to be built on the visually prominent site formerly occupied by the Hudson House. Frederick was very specific about its design. The future , three-story house was to be a replica of the brothers’ ancestral home located in the Mainz, Germany area.

According to its Historic Resources Inventory form, the Rhine House was, and is, “…a residence in the Chateau style…” The Rhine House possesses this style’s impressive visual mass and scale; steeply pitched, hipped roof with many vertical elements, such as shaped chimneys and roofline crest details; multiple dormers; stone walls; elaborate moldings, doorways and more. To enhance the authenticity of the Rhine House, many of its architectural elements were imported from Germany, including the interior moldings, stairs, mantles, flooring and art glass windows.

The Rhine House also features Stick, style elements which are clearly evident at the second floor level with its smooth exterior plaster walls, ornamented with decorative patterned boards, or “stickwork.” The Stick style also features steeply pitched, hipped roofs similar to the Chateau style found on the Rhine House.

Purportedly, the Rhine House also possesses considerable paranormal activity. In fact, the winery has an overflowing file, documenting numerous encounters.

For example, one evening, just after closing, two employees were cleaning up the downstairs of the Rhine House when all of a sudden a loud crash came from the upstairs, Founders’ tasting room. That room had been Frederick’s bedroom and the place where he died in 1901. The two employees each took a different staircase upstairs and did not pass any mortal on their way to the room. They entered the room to find a heavy silver tray had been thrown across the room, and broken stemware was strewn everywhere. Many attribute this occurrence to Frederick and his apparent disapproval of his private quarters being used as a public space.

While others have heard footfalls ascending the stairs when no other mortal was present, there have been even more unnerving encounters within the Rhine House that have profoundly frightened workers. After hours, the night crew thoroughly cleans the house. And, on numerous occasions, those workers have been startled, or worse, by the sight of Frederick walking through his Rhine House walls. In fact, one worker was so frightened by the sight he ran out of the Rhine house and has never returned to Beringer Brothers Winery.

Apparently, the iconic and architecturally grand Beringer Brothers Winery and its Rhine House offers mortals more than one kind of spirit to sample.


Trick or Treating & Coffin Races Come to Downtown Napa

Trick or Treating & Coffin Races come to Downtown Napa

By Craig Smith

Trick or Treating in downtown Napa started eight years ago when a couple of merchants were talking about how the practice has changed from when they were kids.  “Back in the day,” one said, “No one worried when kids went door-to-door at night. Now, a safe place to trick or treat is a good idea.”  One of them suggested that kids be invited to come downtown, during the day, and everyone loved the idea.  (Plus, it gives merchants a great excuse to see all the kids in costumes!)  Now in its eighth year, trick or treating downtown has become a well-received tradition.

This year, a new tradition begins. The Napa City Firefighters Association is hosting the first annual Coffin Races.   Think part go-cart, part bath tub races – this one will be fun. Different groups will bring their entries, all ghoul and/or goblin powered, in an attempt to be the fastest alive (or, dead…)

Umpqua Bank gets the credit for the trick or treating portion of the day, as they have since that started.  Every year, staff members from their stores build displays that work as backdrops for photos.   One includes the cast from the Wizard of Oz, another, the crew from Flintstones, and a third, the characters in Nightmare Before Christmas.  While many of the pictures end up on Facebook, some of the photos of kids posed with the characters become those families’ Christmas cards.
Businesses with black and orange balloons displayed at their door are inviting children to come in and trick or treat.  It gives everyone involved, the children and their parents as well as the merchants, the chance to enjoy the day.  Trick or treating is from Noon to 3 PM on Saturday, Oct. 27th.

There is no charge to participate, and the activity is open to the public. A list of participating stores will be posted on  The Coffin Races will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Beer, wine and soft drinks will be available.

Local Legends

Local Legends

By Kristin Ranuio

Every town has a story. Our valley has many tales to tell. When we asked locals what their favorite Napa legend was, most had a hard time choosing just one. A favorite we heard time and again was about the downtown Cinedome theater, in particular, theater 4, towards the back. Former theater employee, Amanda Rogers, said everyone that worked there knew about it. Legend has it that a man hung himself in the space and, that if you went to the last showing of the night in theater 4 and looked up, sometimes you could see him hanging from the rafters. Employees also noticed the lights often flickered, but only in that theater, not the others. Again, it was attributed to the ghost.

“It was a freaky story everyone knew about,” said Adriana Delgillo. “I would never sit in the back row. People said they felt people, or something, touching them if they sat back there.”

Another theater came to mind for Tom Fuller, the Uptown, also located downtown. Once again, the back row was mentioned. This time, the story goes that there was a gentleman who went to the Uptown every day, always sitting in the same seat in the back row. On occasion, he would fall asleep, and one day when a theater employee went to wake him, he had passed away. People are said to still see or smell him on occasion.

He is considered the cranky guy that haunts the place, but he is not alone. There is a young woman there as well However, legend has it she is not cranky, but confused. Some wonder if she knows she is dead. As the story goes, she was a performer, on stage in the beautiful old theater in the thirties or forties. During a performance she fell off of the stage and died instantly. She is said to still be there today.

Luis Uribe remembers hearing a lot of stories, especially when he was in middle school and high school, about the slaughterhouse that once stood on Old Sonoma Highway. Rumor had it they had hung people there, and their ghosts remained. Many students headed over to see if they could catch a glimpse on clear dark nights.

Another legend in the Carneros region was recalled by Amanda Rogers, at what she and other kids who grew up in the area called “the IRA house”, so named because someone had spray-painted IRA on the side. Standing on the corner of Las Amigas and Duhig Road, the house stood abandoned and falling apart. Legend says that robbers hid out there and hid their treasure in the floorboards. Many a Napa kid has gone searching for said treasure, but it has yet to be found.

A popular ghost in the the Valley seems to be one of its founding fathers, George C. Yount. He is said to roam the streets at night, and his most popular legend is that of his gravesite. If you drive by the Yountville cemetery late at night and pay attention as your headlights skim across the graveyard, you will see Mr. Yount keeping a watchful eye out.

The most popular legend of the Napa Valley has to be that of the Rebobs. Almost every single person we spoke to about this story mentioned them. Some even spoke of being told the story by school teachers that had grown up here.

As it is told, at the very end of Partrick Road, a long, lonely, winding road in Browns Valley, lived a scientist. He was no ordinary scientist though, but a mad scientist. For one of his experiments he decided to sew wings on to the backs of monkeys (think Wizard of Oz). His experiment was a success and, after he passed away, the flying monkeys, called Rebobs, continued to breed and their numbers grew to be many. To see the Rebobs, one needed to go all the way to the end of the road at midnight (a very popular time for Napa legends), and wait. There are two popular versions; one says you wait in your car and they will jump on top of it, screeching and trying to attack, the other says that they hide up in the trees and that you need to search for them. If you are lucky if you get to see one.

Whichever local legends you believe, one thing rings true. The stories of the Napa Valley live on and are passed down from one generation to the next. Look around, especially at midnight, and you
never know what you might see.