May 4th, 2012 by eileen in interesting facts
The California Wine Industry may have John Smith to thank for failing at the very first attempt to produce wine in the US. He happened to be in the wrong place – Virginia (bad conditions) – at the wrong time – 1607 (no technology.) A bit further west existed the perfect climate, terrain and conditions for making great wine.
California Wine History has early roots. According to Wikipedia sources, the first recorded planting of a California vineyard was in 1683 by a Jesuit missionary. That initiative was abandoned, but the potential for great winemaking remained. It took another 100 years, but better late than never. In 1779, Franciscan missionaries, headed by Father Junipero Serra, planted the first “sustained” vineyard at Mission San Juan Capistrano. Eight more missions and eight adjoining vineyards later, an industry was in the making and Serra became known as the “Father of California Wine.”
From that point on many names, nationalities, innovations and ideas played in shaping California Wine History. Jean-Louis Vignes imported European vines to Los Angeles as did Agoston Haraszthy, founder of Buena Vista Winery, the oldest commercial winery in the state whose contributions established Sonoma County as the home of the California wine industry.
Other notables from that time that have endured are Bundschu, Foppiano, Korbel, Simi, Gundlach, Quitzow and Sebastiani.
Napa Valley, probably the most recognized name in the California wine county, appeared on the vinicultural landscape, so to speak, in the early 1800s with innovators such as John Patchett, Dr. George Crane and Hamilton Walker Crabb. Charles Krug established the first commercial winery at Napa and was followed closely by names such as Inglenook and Beringer.
It was during this time that a type of root louse known as phylloxera would cause a major shift in the winemaking world. Indigenous to North American grapes, phylloxera was transferred to Europe on some cuttings and resulted in the decimation of most of the continent’s vineyards. Many North American vines survived due to a built-up resistance. So, while Europe replanted, the California wine country flourished, producing and exporting award winning wines until….
On January 16, 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified and Prohibition became a law that forbid the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.” As a result, the wine industry suffered a devastating setback – while organized crime prospered and ordinary people became “bootleggers.” The repeal of prohibition came too late for many and production dropped by 94% between 1919 and 1925.
Fortunately the 1930s ushered in a new era of wine making that applied modern ingenuity, chemistry and marketing techniques credited to Andre Tchelistcheff, Brother Timothy a wine chemist of Christian Brothers Fame, and Robert Mondavi who established one of the first post-prohibition large-scale wineries, paving the way for others.
The icing on the cake for the California wine industry was the famous 1946 Judgment of Paris blind wine tasting when several California Chardonnays as well as a Stag’s Leap red were ranked the best by a panel of French wine experts. The rest is history.
Go to the following links for more details or check out the movie, Bottle Shock.