Less than 100 miles separates Napa Valley from Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, a sprawling, leafy campus that is as good a candidate as any for the symbolic heart of today’s Silicon Valley. Driving through the country lanes of California wine country, the primary sign of Silicon Valley’s influence might seem to be the large homes and even larger wineries increasingly purchased with the proceeds of dot.com successes. These, however, are merely the simplest and most visible of the myriad ways California’s wine industry has been shaped by the computing revolution of the past 40 years.
Napa, of course, isn’t the closest piece of California wine country to Silicon Valley. Rising up off the back of the San Andreas Fault, the Santa Cruz Mountains are home to vineyards with a commanding view of the world’s innovation crucible. Unsurprisingly, these mountain vineyards were the first place that three executives from the Stanford Research Institute sought to get their hands dirty in 1959. During the week, David Bennion, Charles Rosen, Hewitt Crane and Howard Zeidler were busy pioneering various aspects of computing in the heart of Silicon Valley, but on weekends, they and their families would drive up the winding roads to the Monte Bello vineyard, where they would eventually move from their garage winemaking to incorporate Ridge Vineyards, perhaps the first winery spawned by the silicon revolution.
‘I think the guys spent all day in this virtual world of high tech, and when you do that, you want to put your feet on the ground somewhere’, says Paul Draper, who was hired by the founding partners of Ridge in 1970 to be their winemaker. ‘A vineyard gives you a sense of the real as opposed to the virtual. They loved the blend of creativity and craftsmanship they got from winemaking.’
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