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Wine Mission for California

Hernando Cortez, as Governor of Mexico in 1525, ordered the planting of grapes. The success was such that the King of Spain forbid new plantings or vineyard replacements in Mexico after 1595, fearing his colony would become self-sufficient in wine. This edict was enforced for 150 years, effectively preventing a commercial wine industry from forming.

As in Europe , however, vineyards survived under the auspices of the church and the care of the missions. In 1769, Franciscan missionary Father Junipero Serra planted the first California vineyard at Mission San Diego. Father Serra continued to establish eight more missions and vineyards until his death in 1784 and has been called the "Father of California Wine". The variety he planted, presumably descended from the original Mexican plantings, became known as the Mission grape and dominated California wine production until about 1880.

California 's first documented imported European wine vines were planted in Los Angeles in 1833 by Jean-Louis Vignes. In the 1850s and '60s, the colorful Agoston Harazsthy, a Hungarian soldier, merchant and promoter, made several trips to import cuttings from 165 of the greatest European vineyards to California . Some of this endeavor was at his personal expense and some through grants from the state. Overall, he introduced about 300 different grape varieties, although some were lost prior to testing, due to difficulties in preserving and handling.

Considered the Founder of the California Wine Industry, Harazsthy contributed his enthusiasm and optimism for the future of wine, along with considerable personal effort and risk. He founded Buena Vista winery and promoted vine planting over much of Northern California . He dug extensive caves for cellaring, promoted hillside planting, fostered the idea of non-irrigated vineyards and suggested Redwood for casks when oak supplies ran low…

American wine


In the United States wine is produced commercially in all fifty states including Hawaii and Alaska, however the majority of wine is produced in California. If California, which accounts for about 90% of American wine production, were a country, it would be the fourth largest producer of wine in the world. Nevertheless, this percentage is relatively recent and slowly eroding; major production also occurs in Oregon, Washington State, and New York State.

Following two hundred years of successes and failures, U.S. wine received international recognition at the historic Paris Wine Tasting of 1976. There, in a blind tasting conducted by the creme de la creme of French wine experts, the French selected U.S. wines as the winners of the competition. In the white category, a California wine won not only first place, but three of the top four were from California. One of the first vintages from a new winery in California, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, beat all contenders, including Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Montrose, Chateau Haut-Brion, and Chateau Leoville Las Cases.

Called "history's most important wine tasting" the Paris wine competition, shattered the myth of French wine superiority and revolutionized the world of wine.

Some critics suggested that the French red wines were too young and would outperform the California wines as they aged. However, two separate blind tastings were conducted on the tenth anniversary of the Paris event. In both cases California wines again took top honors. In The Wine Rematch of the Century on the 30th anniversary of the Paris wine competition, California wines increased their rankings significantly, winning the top five of ten ranks. Thus, they apparently aged better than their French competitors.


The first Europeans to explore North America called it Vinland because of the profusion of grape vines they found. However, settlers would later discover that the wine made from the various native grapes had flavors with which they were unfamiliar and did not like. This led to repeated efforts to grow familiar Vitis vinifera varieties. The first vines of Vitis vinifera origin planted in what is now the United States were planted in Senecu in 1629, which is near the present day town of San Antonio, New Mexico.

However, the discovery in 1802 of the native Catawba grape led to very successful wine-making in Ohio. By 1842 Nicholas Longworth was growing 1,200 acres (almost two square miles) of Catawba grapes and making the country's first sparkling wine. In 1858 The Illustrated London News described Catawba as "a finer wine of the hock species and flavour than any hock that comes from the Rhine" and wrote that sparkling Catawba "transcends the Champagne of France." But the successful operations in Ohio ceased when fungus disease destroyed the vineyards. Some growers responded by moving north to the shores of Lake Erie and its islands, where mildew was not a problem.

The Finger Lakes region of New York State developed a successful wine-making industry beginning in the early 1860s when the Pleasant Valley Wine Company began using carefully-selected derivatives of native grapes to produce wine. In 1865 the Urbana Wine Company (which marketed its wine under the Gold Seal label) was established. 1880 saw the establishment of the Taylor Wine Company. By the late 1800s, wines from the Finger Lakes were winning prizes at wine tastings in Europe.

In California, the first vineyard and winery was established by Spanish missionaries in 1769. California has two native grape varieties, but they make very poor quality wine. Therefore, the missionaries used the Mission grape, which is called Criolla or "colonialized European" in South America. Although a Vitis vinifera , it is a grape of "very modest" quality.

The first secular vineyard was established in Los Angeles by an immigrant from Bordeaux, Jean-Louis Vignes. Dissatisfied with the Mission grape, he imported vines from France. By 1851 he had 40,000 vines under cultivation and was producing 1,000 barrels of wine per year.

Major wine production shifted to the Sonoma Valley in northern California largely because of its excellent climate for growing grapes. General Mariano Vallejo, former commander of the presidio of Sonoma, became the first large-scale winegrower in the valley. In 1857, Agoston Haraszthy bought 560 acres near Vallejo's vineyards. In contrast to Vallejo and most others, Haraszthy planted his vines on dry slopes and didn't irrigate them. Today, the value of dry farming to creating superior wine is generally recognized.

Haraszthy has been called the "Father of Modern Viticulture in California." He wrote Report on Grapes and Wines in California, a manual on vineyard management and wine making procedures in which he urged experimentation with different grape varieties in different soils and different parts of the state. He also urged the government to collect cuttings from Europe and distribute them to growers in California. In 1861, the State Legislature commissioned Haraszthy to travel to Europe and purchase a diversity of grapevines. He did so, and obtained 100,000 vines of 300 different varieties. Part of that purchase is believed to have included what is now known as Zinfandel.

In 1857, Charles LeFranc established what became the very successful Almaden Vineyards, where he planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Semillon, and many others. LeFranc produced good wine as did his son-in-law, Paul Masson, Charles Krug became an important leader of winemaking in the Napa Valley. He was also a mentor for Karl Wente, Charles Wetmore and Jacob Berringer, all of whom became important vintners.

Early on, the Napa Valley demonstrated leadership in producing quality wine. At the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889, Napa Valley wines won 20 of the 34 medals or awards (including four gold medals) won by California entries. This was the high point that was followed by 40 years of natural and human-caused disasters. Severe frosts, the outbreak of the phylloxera louse which destroyed Vitis vinifera vines, an economic depression, the San Francisco earthquake that destroyed an estimated 30 million gallons of wine in storage, and the disaster of national Prohibition from 1920 through 1933.

Some wineries managed to survive by making wine for religious services. However, grape growers prospered. Because making up to 200 gallons of wine at home per year was legal, such production increased from an estimated four million gallons before Prohibition to 90 million five years after the imposition of the law. Unfortunately, quality grapes do not ship well, so producers ripped out their vines and replaced them with tough but poor quality grapes such as Alicante Bouschet and Alicante Ganzin.

Following Prohibition American wine making reemerged in very poor condition. Many talented winemakers had died, vineyards had been neglected or replanted in poor quality grapes, and Prohibition had changed American's taste in wines. Consumers now demanded cheap "jug wine" (so-called dago red) and sweet, fortified (high alcohol) wine. Before Prohibition dry table wines outsold sweet wines by three to one, but after the ratio was more than reversed. In 1935, 81% of California's production was sweet wines. The reputation of the state's wines suffered accordingly.

During the 1970's a system was established to identify appellations of origins, using the term American Viticultural Areas (AVA). An AVA guarantees that a minimum of 85% of the wine in the bottle comes from grapes grown in that AVA. The use of individual vineyard names guarantees that 95% of any wine using a vineyard name must be made from grapes grown in that vineyard, and from within a recognized AVA. There are 165 AVAs, of which 93 are in California.

Leading the way out of the abyss was research conducted at the University of California at Davis. Faculty published reports on which varieties of grapes grew best in which regions of the state, held seminars on winemaking techniques, consulted with grape growers and winemakers, offered academic degrees in viticulture, and promoted the production of quality wines. The results of their success would be demonstrated decades later at the Paris wine tasting in 1976, the nation's 200th anniversary.

For nation's vintners, days of wine are rosy. $162 billion industry now in all 50 states with 1.1 million jobs

Edward Epstein from

The U.S. wine and grape products industry has blossomed into a $162 billion-a-year goliath that affects the economy in all 50 states, according to the first study of the business' national range.

"This is bigger than any one member of Congress or one district,'' said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, a third-generation grape grower whose North Bay district is the nation's No. 1 winemaking area. "This study shows a big number that fuels local and state economies and our national economy as well."

The report, prepared for four wine industry groups by MKF Research of St. Helena, found that wineries now operate in every state and that wine , grapes and grape products such as juice create the equivalent of 1.1 million full-time jobs with a $3 billion payroll. There are 4,929 wineries across the country, up from 2,904 in 2000, and those wineries produced $11.4 billion in sales in 2005.

The report said wine sales in shops and restaurants totaled $9.8 billion in 2005.

Wine tourism, a staple for the Napa and Sonoma county economies, has boomed across the country, the study found. It estimates the total number of wine -related visits at 27.3 million, a number that it said produces $3 billion in economic impact.

Nonalcoholic grape products are also major contributors to sales. Table grape sales totaled $3 billion in 2005, grape juice $1.7 billion and raisins $560 million.

And the report said the industry paid $17.1 billion in federal, state and local taxes.

California towers over the rest of the country when it comes to grapes. An MKF study released last year said the industry generated $51.8 billion for the state economy and accounted for 95 percent of U.S. wine exports. A 2005 MKF study said that in Napa County alone, the wine industry had a $9.5 billion annual impact on the local economy.

Wine -related tourism is biggest in California , by far, with about 20 million visitors per year.

California leads the nation with 2,275 bonded wineries, followed by Washington state with 454, Oregon with 291 and New York with 245.

But every state has gotten into the act -- Wyoming has two wineries and Iowa winemakers are among those trying to build a mini-Napa and Sonoma tourism industry centered on winery visits. The state has 50 wineries.

Missouri has 89 wineries, and MKF's Barbara Insel said that during a recent visit, she was told by Missouri agriculture officials that "visits to our wineries are keeping our rural communities alive.''

Such reports produced for an industry are often criticized for overstating that industry's overall impact, but if anything, Insel maintained, this study understates the grape sector's worth. "We think the number is conservative,'' she said, pointing out that she couldn't get reliable figures from across the country on how much wineries and vineyards pay in local property taxes.

What is for sure, Insel added, is that grapes are a "capital-intensive and a labor-intensive industry'' that continues to grow.

Grapes are the sixth-largest U.S. crop in dollar terms, following corn, soybeans, hay, wheat and cotton.

Thompson, who co-chairs the Congressional Wine Caucus with Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, said the industry faces several challenges that could use congressional help. These include controlling diseases that kill vines; dealing with global warming; changing immigration laws to provide a stable, legal workforce for vineyards; and preserving grape-growing acreage in the face of development.

California is particularly vulnerable to economic pressures on grape acreage. The state's grape-bearing acreage slid from 820,000 in 2002 to 800,000 in 2005.

Congress has already helped by granting landowners conservation easements to make it more financially viable for them to keep their land in production. Thompson said more help might be needed in this year's farm legislation.

The Wine Caucus, with 182 representatives and senators, is Congress' second-biggest specialty caucus. Only the Sportsmen's Caucus is bigger. To get its message across, the Wine Caucus hosted a reception Wednesday evening for all new members of Congress, at which all were given a copy of the study.



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