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Vines And Wines - California Wines

[Vines And Wines]  [Red Table Wines]  [White Table Wines]  [Rose Table Wines]  [Sparkling Wines]  [Aperitif And Dessert Wines]  [Fruit Wines] 



California wines are produced from vines, imported from Europe or from neighboring regions, and belonging to the famed Vitis vinifera species of grapes, from which all Old World wines have been made since civilization began.

The art of wine making was brought to California by the Spaniards. From Mexico winegrowing spread northward to Baja California and finally to what was then known as Alta, California. According to tradition Padre Junipero Serra, of mission fame, brought the first vines from Baja California and planted them at Mission San Diego in or about 1769. The Franciscan Fathers planted vines near the various Missions they established along their Camino Real stretching northward is to b to Sonoma. The oldest California winery e found at Mission San Gabriel, where the famed Trinity Vine, planted around 1775, flourished for over a century and a half. It was from San Gabriel that settlers set forth one day to establish the Pueblo, which was to become the city of Los Angeles.

The Mission Fathers planted what became known as the Mission grape, popular for long and still used today, mainly in the production of dessert wines. They made wines mostly for religious and medicinal purposes, but also for table use, some of which became famous throughout the West as did their aguardiente, or brandy. The first layman wine grower of record was Governor Pedro Fages, who planted a vineyard along with his orchards in 1783, not far from his residence in Monterey, Alta California. Dona Marcelina Felix Dominguez, the first known woman wine grower of California, planted, in the early eighteen hundreds, at Montecito near Santa Barbara, a fabulous vine which was to bear, in good years, some four tons of grapes. Known as La Vieja de la Parra Grande, or "The Old Lady of the Grapevine," she was said to be 105 years old when she died in 1865.

For a time Los Angeles led the rest of California in winegrowing. There Joseph Chapman, an early immigrant, is conceded to have been the first viticulturist. He is far overshadowed in fame by Jean Louis Vignes, a native of the Bordeaux region in France and the possessor of a most appropriate name. By 1843 his celebrated Aliso Vineyard, in the heart of what is now downtown Los Angeles and named after a large sycamore which dominated the entrance to his property, covered over a hundred acres. Don Louis del Aliso, as he became known, was the first to import choice vines from Europe and to realize the great future of California wines, produced from these varieties. Many of his relatives followed him from France, including Pierre Sanssevain, who became a well-known grower in his own right.

In the northern region the first great winegrowing pioneer was General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo. Born in Monterey of Castilian descent, he rose to prominence at an early age, becoming closely identified with the Mexican and early American history of California and especially with that of Sonoma, where he resided for many years. He was a great gentleman, farmer, soldier, and philosopher. He accepted the "manifest destiny" whereby Alta California, in its own interest and by the force of circumstances, was to become part of the United States. In June 1846 a company of Americans ran up the Bear Flag in the plaza of Sonoma and soon afterward the American Army raised the flag of the United States. Vallejo, in spite of a brief incarceration by the overly patriotic Bears, accepted the new regime. He continued to devote himself to his agricultural pursuits and to aid immigrant Yankees to settle in the newly opened region. He was the first non-missionary winegrower in the Sonoma Valley and dominated the viticultural scene there for many years, until the advent of Haraszthy.

Colonel Agoston Haraszthy is often referred to as "the father of California's modern wine industry:" It is greatly owing to his genius that a sound and lasting basis was created for the state's viticulture. It is a pleasing thought that the winegrowing estate near Sonoma, which Haraszthy called Buena Vista and made famous, is in operation today. It is there that some of the story of this colorful California winegrowing pioneer will be found.

California wineries have a long and proud tradition. Many of the better-known enterprises flourishing today were founded in the nineteenth century, some still being run by members of the founding family. Their listing by county and in approximate chronological order, according to the owners' claims, presents an intriguing historical and geographical picture.

In 1849, or earlier, the vineyards in San Benito County now known as Valliant Vineyards were started by Theophile Vache. In Santa Clara, Almaden, Paul Masson, and Martin Ray are the successors to wine-making traditions begun in 1852. In the same county Mirassou Vineyards originated a year later, some four years earlier than Buena Vista in Sonoma. The early sixties saw the beginnings of Charles Krug in Napa and of Schramsberg. Dating back to the seventies are Padre in San Bernardino, Fountaingrove in Sonoma, Beringer Brothers in Napa, St. George in Fresno, Simi in Sonoma, and Inglenook in Napa.

In the eighties a galaxy of famous wineries was founded, including Italian Swiss Colony and Korbel in Sonoma, Mt. La Salle (The Christian Brothers) in Napa, Brookside Vineyard Company of Cucamonga, Cresta Blanca, Wente, and Concannon in Alameda, Italian Vineyards Company (LV.C.) in San Bernardino (now owned by Garrett and Company with their own wine-making tradition dating back in the East to i83g), California Wine Association in San Francisco, Digardi in Contra Costa, Petri in San Joaquin, Ruby Hill in Alameda, the Novitiate of Los Gatos in Santa Clara, Los Amigos in Alameda, San Gabriel in Los Angeles, and Bisceglia Brothers in Fresno.

The nineties witnessed the foundings of Roma, now of Fresno, of San Martin in Santa Clara, and of the Napa and Sonoma Wine Company and of Foppiano, both of Sonoma. In i9oo the foundations were laid for Beaulieu in Napa.

Since then many other wineries, great and small, have risen to establish noteworthy wine-making traditions of their own. Prohibition dealt a severe blow to American viticulture in general and that of California in particular. It was a senseless attack, as Prohibition has never led the way to moderation and encroaches deeply on man's freedom of judgment. A substantial part of California's vineyard acreage was maintained for the production of wines for sacramental and medicinal purposes and for supplying grapes to home wine makers, as allowed by the dry laws. Other vineyards were turned over to the cultivation of table grapes and to the manufacture of grape juice.

After Repeal the California wine industry was rebuilt on a sound basis with the State Department of Public Health and the federal government becoming joint guardians for the maintenance of standards as to the identity and labeling of wines.

California is responsible for roughly 90 per cent of the production of all domestic wines consumed in the United States. Aperitif and dessert wines constitute about 75 per cent of the total California wine production, the balance consisting mostly of table wines and of sparkling wines. Of the table wines approximately four fifths are red, including the roses, and one fifth white.

The climate and soil of California are particularly well suited to the vines of the Vitis vinifera family. Beginning with the days of Jean Louis Vignes and of Agoston Haraszthy, practically every variety of these wines has been planted in California, many of them with great success. By the alchemy of local conditions they yield wines which often differ in character from those produced in their original environments. California wines, while often similar or identical in name to European types, should always be considered on their own merits, but comparisons, it seems, are often inevitable. The same grapes also develop differently in the various regions and climates of California. Maturity is slow in cooler areas; grapes retain more acid and develop less sweetness, while dark grapes attain the maximum coloring matter in their skins. These regions are best suited for the production of dry table wines and of sparkling wines of quality. Under warmer conditions grapes develop less acid and a greater sugar content. These zones are better adapted to the production of dessert wines.

It is known exactly to which localities each grape variety is best suited or whether its cultivation should be avoided altogether. Such studies and recommendations are among the important functions of the Department of Viticulture and Enology of the University of California's College of Agriculture, which maintains an experiment station at Davis in Yolo County.

Full recognition must be given to a great line of university figures who have wisely guided California's viticulture and are seeking constant improvement. First of that line was the famed Dean Hilgard who was succeeded by Bioletti, or the great Bioletti, as he is often referred to. Both have long since passed on, to supervise, it may be hoped, the heavenly vineyards. Their places are ably taken today by such men, professors of viticulture or enology, as Winkler, Amerine, and Olmo, familiar figures to all members of the wine industry. Winegrowing and wine production are important and fundamental parts of California's agriculture. There are many more farmer-growers than producers. The interests of both should be adequately protected. Wine making is also a business, subject to the hazards of weather and diseases, to fluctuating grape prices, and to high labor costs. It is at the same time an art, requiring the skill, patience, and devotion of experts.

Fine wines are produced from the better wine grapes, but the latter are often sparse yielders. Medium-grade wines are the product of the more heavily yielding vines of lesser quality. Inferior wines are not infrequently made with table grapes, or even using raisins and rejects. This is a deplorable practice, yielding wines of doubtful merit, even if sound in appearance, and educates part of the public to wines lacking in flavor and bouquet. It would be desirable that all wine grapes were legally classified as such and that any wine, produced from other than wine grapes, even in part, were to carry an indication of the fact on the label.

Wines produced from the finest grapes naturally will command a higher price. For such wines the name on the label of an outstanding winegrower is helpful as a guarantee of quality. If a sound standard-quality wine is sought at a lower price, then the name of a volume producer of a nationally distributed brand should be looked for. These wines are advertised widely and provide good value for the money.

California winegrowers often produce, bottle, and market wines of many different types, growing some grapes themselves and buying the rest from growers in the neighborhood or from other districts. It is customary for a large producer to market a variety of table wines as well as aperitif and dessert wines and often sparkling wines as well. One reason for this custom is that many different varieties of grapes flourish in the same vicinity; vines which are strangers or even rivals in Europe become friendly neighbors in California. Another, and very potent, reason is that it is much more profitable to market a large variety of wines than otherwise. Only a few California wineries produce wines only from grapes grown in their own vineyards. Most of them buy outside grapes as needed and many bottle wines they do not produce themselves in order to complete the selection of wines they want to market. It must be stressed in this connection that the fact that a wine is actually produced at a specific winery from home-grown grapes only can never be as important as the quality of the wine itself, backed by the reputation of the winery which either produces or markets it.

Two fairs are held yearly in California, to which many wine growers send their wines to compete for the Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Honorable Mention awards. The California State Fair is held at Sacramento around the beginning of September and the Los Angeles County Fair at Pomona during the latter part of the same month: Judgments at the State Fair represent the opinions of experts from the viticultural and wine-making points of view and tend to be more technical than those expressed at the Los Angeles County Fair, which reflect more the tastes of the gourmet and connoisseur.

It was first planned to publish in this guide, as indication of comparative merits, a complete listing of the awards to date won by all wines at both fairs since 1949. Such a compilation, according to both wine type and grower, did in fact form part of the research done for this work. In some types a definite pattern can be observed over the years of specific wines which consistently win awards at either or at both fairs. In most cases, however, no clear picture becomes apparent. Some growers, also, including producers of highquality wines, do not take part in the fairs at all. Award-winning wines are not all available to the public, nor are they necessarily identical to those sold in the trade. The fair awards are most valuable both as the result of the plural opinion of the judges and as incentives to competition by the growers. At the same time they do not constitute a complete picture of the comparative merits of all the better and best wines of California. They are, naturally, highly coveted prizes and great recommendations for the wines concerned. Those interested can obtain copies of the wine awards by applying direct to the fairs or to the Wine Institute.

The wines of California fall in three great classifications: table wines, sparkling wines, and aperitif and dessert wines. They will be treated in that order, while a separate chapter is devoted to the fruit wines.