California Wine Info

California Wine History

The first California wine maker was Padre Junipero Serra who led the Spanish missionaries from Baja north to Sonoma between 1769 and 1823. The Franciscans were California's only viticulturists for almost 60 years, producing wine for sacramental, medicinal and table use from what was known as the Mission grape.

Commercial wine production began in the 1820s when Joseph Chapman planted his first vineyard in the Los Angeles area. He was followed a decade later by Jean Louis Vignes, a Frenchman who flourished in the trade by planting choice vine cuttings sent from Europe. In 1843 George Yount began the serious cultivation of grapes in the Napa Valley

In 1861 a Hungarian nobleman realized the great potential of California's rich soil and mild climate and was sent to Europe by the governor of California to gather vines for experimentation. Agoston returned with over 100,000 cuttings and triggered the great modern expansion of the California wine industry in the Napa Valley and other regions.

California wine development has not been without problems. During the 1870s and '80s, a vine louse known as Phylloxera was imported along with the European cuttings and decimated vineyards throughout California. Only Amador County and the Paso Robles wine growing region were spared. Science saved the day when it was discovered that the fragile European vines could be grafted onto the sturdier American rootstock. By the turn of the 20th century, California was competing with European wines for world markets and winning international competitions while producing near 28 million gallons in 1900.

It is interesting to note that European vineyards were visited by a disaster that threatened at one time to wipe them out completely when, in 1863, there was accidentally imported an American louse of the genus Phylloxera, which fed upon the roots of vines. Large wine-growing areas were devastated as the pest spread; 2,500,000 acres (1,000,000 hectares) were thought to have been ruined in France; and in Madeira and the Canary Islands wine production ceased completely. The ravages were checked eventually by the importation of louse-resisting stocks from California, on which the older vines were grafted.

Early History of Wine

Wine had a history by the time the Old Testament was written; in Genesis 9:20 it is ascribed to Noah. In ancient Greece wine was dark and usually drunk with water; to drink it unmixed was regarded as riotous. At that time wine was kept in casks, goatskins, or earthenware amphorae and stoppered with oil or a greasy rag; effectively, air was working on it all the time. There was little change in Roman days, though with greater wealth there came an approach to connoisseurship. But the full maturing of wine was impossible until the bottle and the cork were generally used.

During the European Middle Ages, the production and quality of wine, so far as can be ascertained, fell steadily from classical days. The Romans had planted vines wherever the climate would tolerate it - North Africa, Spain, Gaul, Britain, and Illyria in particular. Their cultivation continued for local consumption, and because of the need of wine for the communion service, the care of the vineyards was particularly an ecclesiastical preoccupation. The reappearance of good wines and famous vineyards invariably resulted from the efforts of monks or of monarchs distinguished by their devotion to the church.

The planting of vines in some of the most famous Rhenish and Burgundian vineyards is traditionally ascribed to Charlemagne, but it was not until the 12th century that the great wine-growing areas were planted and found a larger market. Owing to the limits of medieval transport, vineyards had to be by riversides; and the most famous wines came from lands along the Rhine, the Garonne, and the Loire rivers.

The use of wine bottles and corks as it is known in modern times seems to have become common toward the end of the 17th century, the development of both resulting largely from the work of Dom Pierre Pˇrignon of Hautvillers, the father of the champagne trade. Another important change was the discovery, by accident in the year 1775 in the Rheingau, that grapes left to rot on the vines produced a sweetness and bouquet unobtainable otherwise. In the mid-1750s the Madeira shippers first began scientifically fortifying their wines by adding a proportion of brandy to them, a process essential for the manufacture and maturing of almost all dessert wines.

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