A photo of a wine bottle from the collection of L Pierce Carson and whom better to tell the story of; Falcon Crest, as only a local journalist would know it. From the archives of L Pierce Carson.
“Immortalized as the setting of the popular primetime TV soap opera, “Falcon Crest,” Spring Mountain Vineyard Swiss financier Jacob Safra acquired the historical estate in 1991.
The sits is historic for other reasons as well the original wine cave was carved into the serpentine hillside in 1885 by original owner Tiburcio Parrott.
Amazingly the estate still houses an 1886 Eastlake horse barn housing antique winemaking equipment and the estate’s extensive tropical Victorian-era gardens, which contain huge banana trees, palms, tree ferns, citrus and pomegranate.
The vineyards showcase closely spaced vines trained in the vertical “gobelet” manner, an ancient method of pruning not only used by Parrott but by the Romans centuries ago.
The estate has a rich winemaking history. It was developed by Tiburcio Parrott, the illegitimate son of John Parrott, who once served as U.S. consul in Mazatlan, Mexico. His mother, Abby, was a native of Mexico.
Tiburcio worked with his father in San Francisco. He had an interest in the Rattlesnake Quicksilver Mining Company in Lake County which brought him through the Napa Valley frequently.
Once a large encampment of native Americans, the substantial hillside estate was developed by Parrott in the latter part of the 19th century. Records indicate Parrott not only planted grapes on the property but also a number of olive and citrus trees as well as tobacco plants.
Parrott got to know his neighbors quite well and the Beringers introduced him to their architect, Albert Schroepfer. Schroepfer had designed and built Gustave Niebaum’s mansion at Inglenook as well as the Rhine House for the Beringer brothers. His other Bay Area claim to fame is San Francisco’s Orpheum Theater.
With wraparound veranda, conservatory and a tower lookout, Parrott’s 8,000 square foot home was larger than that of Niebaum and the Beringers. He called it Miravalle, Spanish for valley view, as Parrott did indeed have a panoramic view of the Napa Valley from his rooftop tower.
Parrott died in 1894, reportedly as a result of stomach cancer. His Miravalle was not lived in but nevertheless was well preserved for decades after his death.
The hillside estate was purchased by Mike Robbins in 1974. After a successful career in real estate, Robbins came to the Napa Valley to pursue a new passion — wine. He bought a Victorian on Highway 29 just north of St. Helena and constructed a small winery — now St. Clement — and launched his initial winegrowing operation. Not long after, he discovered the Parrott estate and launched Spring Mountain Vineyard from this historic hillside property.
Robbins and his wife, Susan, restored Miravalle and Robbins built a 17,000 square foot winery at the site of Tiburcio’s original wine cave and small winery. Robbins’ Spring Mountain chardonnay soon became popular with wine aficionados and had quite a following in the 1970s, the Ferrells point out.
Here comes Hollywood
In the early 1980s, Lorimar, a Hollywood production firm, approached Robbins with an offer to film a series using Miravalle for its backdrop. To be written by Earl Hamner, creator of the long-running TV drama, “The Waltons,” the new series, to be titled “Vintage Years,” was based in the Napa Valley.
For the pilot, a wealth of the valley’s well known vintners and friends put on their best bib and tucker for a party scene filmed in the living room of Miravalle. The pilot was successful and the series was picked up by CBS, which renamed it “Falcon Crest.” Parrott’s Victorian home was soon to become one of the most famous residences in the world.
Airing in the time slot following the network’s immensely popular “Dallas,” “Falcon Crest” sought to hold onto nighttime soap opera addicts with yet another saga of the rich and greedy fighting for power and sexual favors in fictional Tuscany Valley.
Jane Wyman was tapped to play Angela Channing, matriarch and principal empire builder, feared by almost everyone whose life she touched. She ran Falcon Crest with an iron fist and manipulated everyone to suit her purposes.
When the series was first telecast on Dec. 4, 1981, Channing’s nephew, Chase Gioberti, played by Robert Foxworth, has just inherited 50 acres of vineyard from his recently deceased father, Jason Gioberti, Angela Channing’s brother. Wyman’s character insisted the land was hers. But Chase moved from New York to Tuscany Valley to manage his newly found vineyard, with his wife, Maggie (Susan Sullivan) and two children, Cole (William R. Moses) and Victoria (Jamie Rose). The series developed — some said went downhill — from there.
The series generated 227 episodes, the last of which initially aired on May 18, 1990. During that amazing decade-long run, “Falcon Crest” featured a large number of actors in featured roles, including Lorenzo Lamas (who played Angela’s playboy grandson), Ana Alicia, Edward Albert Jr., Abby Dalton, Mel Ferrer, Gregory Harrison, Celeste Holm, Apollonia Kotero (then girlfriend of rock star Prince), Simon MacCorkindale, Ken Olin, Cesar Romero and Rod Taylor.
The series was extremely popular in Europe and Asia. As a result, throngs of visitors from countries all over the world flocked to Spring Mountain Vineyard to catch a glimpse of the historic “Falcon Crest” mansion. On numerous occasions, Robbins — who lived in the home — said he came downstairs to find strangers poking about his living room, eager to ask questions about the show and its cast. In fact, Robbins even bottled some wine under the Falcon Crest label in an effort to capitalize on the show’s popularity.
“Falcon Crest” still airs every weekday on Soapnet and is shown occasionally by TV stations worldwide.”
Story published in the Napa Register by L Pierce Carson November 13, 2003.
Chris Edwards Napa September 10, 2017