La Jota Vineyard Co. was founded in the 1890s by Frederick Hess, an immigrant from Locarno, Switzerland, who established a German-language newspaper in San Francisco. No doubt influenced by other European immigrants involved in California's nascent wine industry, Hess purchased 327 acres of a Mexican land grant—Rancho La Jota—high on Howell Mountain for his vineyards. In 1898 he built the winery from volcanic ash rock quarried right on the property; his first fermentation tanks also came from the estate—from a stand of nearby coastal redwoods.
At the 1900 Paris Exposition, only two years after the winery's construction, the wines of La Jota garnered international recognition with a bronze medal; in 1904 they won gold at the World's Fair in St. Louis.
Rancho La Jota
In 1844, when Alta California was still under Mexican rule, Napa Valley pioneer George Yount asked Mexican General Mariano Vallejo for land on heavily forested Howell Mountain to provide lumber for settlers in the valley. Yount received 4,454 acres and named this spectacular land Rancho La Jota, which literally means "the letter J," possibly referring to a popular Spanish dance of the 18th and 19th centuries.