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...a blog about the lighter side of wine...

April 3, 2015

California Wines - a history
on the lighter side

I think we should pause a moment and thank the Catholic Church for having brought wine to California.

Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan missionary who founded nine missions in Southern California, planted the first vineyard in 1799 at the Mission San Diego de Alcalá where the city of San Diego is today. The grapes he grew there were known as "Mission" grapes and may have come from Mexico. By the way, his seventh mission was San Juan Capistrano, a beautifully preserved and a must see attraction if you are near San Diego, even if there is no more wine there.

In 1833 the first commercial winery was opened by Jean Louis Vignes in the Los Angeles area using vines imported from Europe. Other large and small wineries followed, and the wine industry exploded, especially after Los Angeles declared that no taxes should be levied on land used for growing wine grapes. Occasionally politicians get it right.

The California Gold Rush (1848 - 1855) changed the geography of wine in California. The gold diggers were in Northern California and demanded wine, and so wine production went there starting in the Sonoma Valley. Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian, brought over 150 cuttings from some of the greatest vineyards in Europe to California and founded the Buena Vista Winery in 1857. It is the oldest existing winery in the state.

Then came the politicians and managed to kill roughly 2,500 wineries nationwide with a masterpiece of legislation called the Volstead act, better known as "Prohibition" (1920 - 1933). Only about 100 wineries survived growing mainly juice grapes.

After prohibition the California wine industry started to develop into what we appreciate today - new techniques were adopted and new grape varietals were planted. Robert Mondavi is credited with pioneering many of these new methods, and it did not take long for other wineries to follow. The quality of California wines has improved ever since!

What finally gave California wines the worldwide recognition they deserve was the famous "Judgement of Paris" - a blind tasting of wines by French judges which took place in 1976, and where California wines knocked the socks off French and other European wines winning gold, silver and bronze medals in both red and white wines!

Go California!

(The above is a loose interpretation of facts gathered from wikipedia.com, thewinecellarinsider.com and other websites)

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