Our History

Evolution of the ECWTM

In 1983, Dean Walters began the practice of his trade as Vintage Antiques, focusing on wine and Champagne related antiques and collectibles. Occasionally, interesting and beautiful artifacts and ephemera from California’s early wine trade passed through the business. Mysteries surrounded these curious artifacts as substantive accounts of our state’s early wine history were difficult to find.

Dean bought and sold these historical artifacts early on, but it soon became apparent that these were meaningful pieces of California’s early wine history. He began setting aside ephemera, photographs, wine bottles, advertising, and more, not yet having a plan in mind. In discussions with like minded friends, a concept evolved in the late 1980s. California needed a museum devoted to its amazing wine history!

Few similar projects have been undertaken. Alfred Fromm, chairman of Fromm & Sichel, Inc., opened the San Francisco Wine Museum in 1974, featuring worldwide wine history and artwork. Their museum which closed just a few years later, had an impressive collection representing mostly Europe’s wine history, but little of California’s. Dean’s long time friend and fellow wine antiques dealer, Jim McCormick once sought investors who might purchase his impressive collection of vineyard & wine making equipment and wine related ephemera, to form the California Wine Museum. Jim’s dream faded a few years ago as interested parties came and went, but never fully committed to the project.

Jim reluctantly decided to sell his collection piecemeal when Dean found support from friend and fellow collector, John O’Neill, who expressed interest in purchasing much of the California wine trade material from Jim’s collection. Many fine pieces were acquired, consisting of advertising signs, photographs, wine bottles, and more.

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By 2012 the archives had grown substantially, the Early California Wine Trade Archive (ECWTA) emerged, and a website was created to promote the project. In 2015, the Early California Wine Trade Museum (ECWTM) was incorporated as a California 501(c)(3) nonprofit. A board of directors was formed, most of whom still serve. Please visit our website’s Board of Directors page to learn more.

In 2015, John O’Neill purchased many important pieces from an important collection of early California wine advertising signs originally collected by San Francisco hotelier & restauranteur Newton Cope. Cope once owned the former St. George Restaurant in St. Helena (later Tra Vigne, now Charter Oak), and displayed his collection on its walls. When the restaurant closed in the 1980s, Cope sold his collection to Jim & Debbie Woods in Southern California. Dean met the Woods soon after, and retained contact with them through the years. In 2004 the Woods consigned many of their beautiful pieces to the Copia museum in Napa for an exhibition titled Grapes in the Golden West which Dean organized as guest curator.

Currently, the ECWTM is looking for a permanent home. The Walters and O’Neill collections will be gifted to the ECWTM when a facility can be found to securely store, protect, and display these historic artifacts. In the meantime, short term displays and exhibitions have and will continue in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Exhibitions & displays created by Dean Walters, the ECWTA, and the ECWTM:

2004Grapes in the Golden West, at Copia in Napa. Featuring a selection of pre-Prohibition California wine advertising & ephemera. Dean Walters, guest curator.
October 2011 • Exhibit and talk for the Cloverdale Historical Society Museum. A focus on early northern Sonoma County wineries including Italian Swiss Colony. Dean Walters collection.
December 2014 thru Jan. 2015 • Display & Keynote presentation at The Hess Collection, Napa. A focus on Theodore Gier, early wine merchant of Oakland; winemaker in the Livermore and Napa Valley; and former owner of the Mt. Veeder property. Organized by Dean Walters & the ECWTA.
June 2014 • Display at Alpha Omega winery, Rutherford for an Auction Napa Valley pre-party. Ephemera from early Rutherford and vicinity. Organized by Dean Walters & the ECWTA.
April 2015 • Display for Constellation Brands at Robert Mondavi Winery, Oakville. Early To-Kalon vineyard ephemera. Organized by the ECWTM.
April 2016 • Display for Oakville Wine Growers at Robert Mondavi Winery, Oakville. Early Oakville AVA ephemera. Organized by the ECWTM.
November 2016 • Display & Keynote presentation for Usibelli Vineyard’s annual board meeting in Napa. Early Napa County valley & mountain vineyards. Organized by the ECWTM.
October 2017 • Exhibition The Golden Age of Wine in Northern California at the Healdsburg Regional Library, Healdsburg. Pre-Prohibition artifacts & ephemera. Organized by the ECWTM.
May 2019 • At Jean-Charles Boisset’s Napa Wine History Museum in Oakville, displays featuring pre-Prohibition wineries of central Napa Valley – Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, & south St. Helena. Though December 2019. ECWTM.

Visit our Galleries to see many images of Past Displays & Exhibitions