Did you know that it is estimated that 90% of wine made in the U.S. is produced in California? Incredible! How did this incredible legacy and industry begin? The first recorded vineyard being planted was done so in 1683 by a Spanish Jesuit Missionary named Eusebio Francisco Kino. The first variety was name “Misionero” and was planted in Baja California.
In 1779 Franciscan missionaries led by Father Junipero Serra planted California’s first sustained vineyard at Mission san Diego de Alcala. The Father would found eight other California missions, planting grapes and producing wine at each one. He would be ultimately called the “Father of California Wine”. The variety he planted, probably coming from Spain, became known as the Mission Grape and would become the dominate grape in California until 1880’s.
In the 1880’s commercial viticulturists primarily based in Southern California would begin importing European wine vines and began planting them in the Los Angeles area. The first commercial wine maker is believed to be Jean-Louis Vignes in 1833. He and William Wolfskill, another early commercial wine maker, would be pioneers of California wine production.
Up until the 1850’s, wine production would be limited to mostly Southern California, but then came the California Gold Rush. Between January 1848 and December 1849, San Francisco’s population went from 1,000 to 25,000 new citizens. Their thirst for wine would bring commercial production northward into the San Francisco region. Areas like Sutter County, Yuba County, El Dorado, and more began planting vineyards and producing wine.
California’s biggest challenge during the early years came not from some nefarious infestation or disease, but from prohibition. The 18th Amendment would forbid the sale or transport of intoxicating liquors. In order to save the varietals, many winegrowers began growing small vineyards at home and became notorious bootleggers.
With the repeal of prohibition, the winemakers would begin replanting their vineyards, but the high quality grapes that had made California so famous would not be reproduced until the early 1970’s.
The late 1970’s and 1980’s would see wine production increase exponentially in the state. Producers and growers would seek a larger customer base, utilize sophisticated marketing strategies, and produce grapes using the most sophisticated technologies.
And the rest is history… Happy Wining All!