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History Of California Wine

History Of California Wine

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How did the wine industry start in California?

The history of wine in California starts with the arrival of the Spanish. The Spanish Franciscan Missionaries planted the first vineyards in California in 1769, at Mission San Diego de Alcalá, the state's first mission. Vineyards were planted to provide wine for communion, just as palm trees were planted to provide palm fronds for Palm Sunday. That first type, seeded by Father Junipero Serra, became so popular that it was dubbed the Mission grape and reigned supreme until 1880.

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Initially, commercial production was concentrated in Southern California, but the Gold Rush (1848–1855) drew a large number of people to Northern California. (In 1848, San Francisco's population grew from 1,000 to 25,000 in a single year.) The thirst of those miners soared, as did the demand for wine. Sutter County, El Dorado County, Napa County, and Sonoma County (among many others) were among the first to grow vineyards during the gold rush years. By the early 1900s, California's burgeoning wine business had sent wines to Australia, Central America, England, and even Asia.

Between 1919 and 1925, production fell by 94%. There were more than 2,500 commercial vineyards in the United States before 1920, but only about 100 survived Prohibition. The Viticulture and Enology Department at UC Davis was established in an effort to restore the wine industry. One of the first faculty members employed in this newly constituted department was Maynard Amerine. The turnaround was slow, even with the support of UC Davis winemaking specialists and Maynard's never-ending writing, traveling, and coaching. That number had barely increased to 271 by 1960. It would take more than a half-century for California wine production to return to pre-Prohibition levels.
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A tiny group of Northern California winemakers was dedicated to establishing a winemaking business in the state that could compete on an international level. Even after high-quality wines were made, winemakers struggled to market them. On May 24, 1976, a turning point for California wine happened when California producers entered their wines in a blind tasting against French wines. The judging panel was entirely made up of French people, so it came as a surprise when California wines came out on top in both the Chardonnay and Red wine categories. Time Magazine published the results of what became known as the Paris Judgment. Money couldn't purchase that kind of publicity. And demand for California wines soared. Today, the state is known for producing some of the world's best wines, and those competition wines are still made today.

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Oldest Vineyards in California

The San Jose Vineyard, located between Goléta and San Marcos Pass in Santa Barbara County, is the oldest vineyard in California. It was owned by the Church until 1853, when the Archbishop of the Los Angeles Diocese sold it to an eccentric old pioneer called James McCaffrey, who today cultivates the old vines with his sons, producing about 8,000 gallons of the best vintage each year. One of the weirdest facts about this antique vineyard is that it hasn't been plowed or tended in over 30 years. Year after year, it produces a nice crop of wild oats for hay, but no plow is allowed to damage the land. The old man refuses to explain how he always has a bumper harvest while his neighbors don't. A vine grows along the sides of an old adobe building, starting near the door, dividing and sending branches in opposite directions, and after making a 100-foot circuit of the building, both ends have been grafted together, producing a complete hoop around the building.

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