History of California Wine in 6 Glasses


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The story of the California wine industry is replete with interesting characters, historical milestones, and wacky situations.

Indeed, the history of wine in California is tied to the history of modern California itself. It all began with the Spanish colonization of the area. During the 18th Century Spanish missionaries, led by Franciscan friar Junípero Serra Ferrer established a series of missions ranging from San Diego to Sonoma. And, of course, the one thing that is absolutely necessary for Catholic mass is nor a chapel or church, but WINE for the sacrament. It was the friar, monks, and their parishioners who first discovered that California provided ideal conditions for the making of good wine.

It wasn’t until the 19th century and immigration of other Europeans that California wine became a commercial proposition. The discovery of gold in 1848 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains brought an influx of fortune seekers from around the world. The discovery preceded the annexation of California from Mexico by only about a month, and the following year saw the population of the state explode. While a few made their fortunes, many did not. But, one fact was certainly true… they were a thirsty bunch.

It was a ready and open market for alcohol that spurred many of the early pioneers in the business to plant a few acres and start making wine for the “forty-niners” and others who followed in their wake.

While today, we tend to think of Napa Valley as the best that California has to offer, the early pioneers settled in other areas like Sonoma and Livermore. In 1882, three Czech brothers named Korbel built a winery in western Sonoma County and began making sparkling wine, one of the earliest wineries to do so. A year later in 1883, Carl Wente planted 43 acres in Livermore Valley and began a 130 legacy that is still owned and operated by the fourth and fifth generation Wente family. Their contributions to California wine include the Wente clone of Chardonnay, which is widely planted throughout the state and the backbone of many great wines from many producers.

Other’s followed and carried the industry into the 20th Century… Georges de Latour, Andre Tchelistcheff, Cesare, Peter, and Robert Mondavi, and Ernest and Julio Gallo are but a few of a long list of names of individuals whose vision, determination, and spunk have made California wine what it is today.

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History of California Wine in 6 Glasses

  2. 2. • Michael Wangbickler – Certified Wine Educator (CWE) – Certified WSET Educator – CIA Adjunct Instructor – CEO, Balzac Communications – President, Drink Local Wine ABOUT ME
  3. 3. LEARNING OUTCOMES • Garner an overview of California wine and its place in history • Understand how historical events have shaped the California wine business • Gain knowledge of significant individuals and wineries and their impact on California wine
  4. 4. DISCLAIMER • I have one client in this group of wines • I am not affiliated with any of the others • I am not the winemaker, so you can’t hurt my feelings • I chose these wines as a good way to experience the history of California. • We’re only going to scratch the surface
  6. 6. IN THE BEGINNING • During the late 18th Century, Spanish Franciscan Friar Junípero Serra Ferrer helped establish a series of missions from Dan Diego to Sonoma.
  7. 7. THE MISSION TRAIL • Evidence of vineyards at nearly every mission • The “Mission” grape dominates for nearly a century. • Father Jose Altamira plants first vines in Sonoma at Mission San Francisco Solano in 1823
  8. 8. IT REALLY BEGAN IN SOCAL • Jean-Louis Vignes imports first non-mission, vitis vinifera to California in 1830 and plants in Los Angeles. • William Wolfskill purchased his first vineyard in 1838 in the LA area. By 1858 he owned 55,000 vines across 145 acres. • These two attracted others to the area.
  9. 9. BUT NORCAL WASN’T FAR BEHIND • George Calvert Yount was first to plant wine grapes in Napa in 1839. • In 1840, Robert Livermore plants first wine grapes in Livermore Valley
  10. 10. ON ITS WAY TO STATEHOOD • Bear Flag Revolt takes place in Sonoma in 1846 • Mexican-American War (1846-48) • Annexed from Mexico in 1848 for $18 Million • California officially becomes a state in September 1850
  11. 11. GOLD! • Gold is discovered in the Sierras in 1848 • Discovery precedes annexation by about a month. • An influx of “49ers” sees population explode • A thirsty bunch
  12. 12. A COMMERCIAL PROPOSITION • John Patchett plants the first commercial vineyard in Napa Valley in 1854. • Cyrus Alexander plants grapes in northern Sonoma County in 1856. • Agoston Haraszthy founds first commercial winery in Sonoma in 1857. • Charles Krug establishes winery in 1861 in Napa.
  13. 13. EARLY PLAYERS • In 1876, Giuseppe and Pietro Simi began making wine in San Francisco. • Korbel Bros. build a winery in western Sonoma County in 1882. • Carl H. Wente and James Concannon start first wineries in Livermore in 1883.
  14. 14. EARLY TRIALS • Phylloxera strikes in the 1870s, devastating many vineyards. • Earthquake of 1906 • In 1919 the 18th Amendment launches Prohibition, effectively ending commercial wine production. • Hundreds of wineries close their doors.
  15. 15. THE STRUGGLE TO BEGIN AGAIN • The 21st Amendment ends the “great experiment” in 1933. • But world conflict makes it difficult to grow. • In the 1950s and 1960s, American’s developed a taste for wine and the modern era bloomed.
  16. 16. CREAM SHERRY • Representative of early California wine style • Much like “Angelica” of the past • 181 Cases produced • $50
  17. 17. THE FATHER OF CALIFORNIA WINE • Agoston Haraszthy, “The Count of Buena Vista,” and “Father of California Wine,” comes on the scene in 1840 • He was a real character, but also a visionary
  18. 18. VINES IN SAN FRANCISCO? • In the early 1850s, Haraszthy established a vineyard in San Francisco to satisfy local demand for alcohol. • It was not a success. • He finds his way to Sonoma, establishing Buena Vista in 1857.
  19. 19. ABOUT THE VINES • Pens “Report on Grapes and Wine of California” in 1858. • Plants more than 250 acres of vines in 1860 at Buena Vista. • Brings back over 100,000 cuttings of 350 varieties from Europe’s finest vineyards in 1861.
  20. 20. VINICULTURAL SOCIETY • The Buena Vista Vinicultural Society, dedicated to expanding and modernizing winemaking, is established at Buena Vista in 1863. • One of the first ventures of its kind.
  21. 21. DIGGING DEEP • Haraszthy has California’s first wine caves completed at Buena Vista in 1864. • Buena Vista continues to grow to 2 Million gallons. • In 1866, Haraszthy was forced to resign from his position at the winery.
  22. 22. EATEN BY AN ALLIGATOR • Haraszthy disappears in a Nicaraguan, Alligator- infested swamp. • His body is never found. • But the winery would continue to grow and prosper until succumbing to financial pressures in 1878.
  23. 23. KORBEL NATURAL • Representative of California Sparkling wines • Varieties: 65% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay • 43,000 Cases • $13.99
  24. 24. F. KORBEL & BROS. • Mid-1800s • Francis, Anton and Joseph Korbel emigrated from Czechoslovakia to the United States • F. Korbel & Bros. began as a manufacturing business in San Francisco that produced materials for the building industry
  25. 25. THE DRAW OF WINE • In 1882, they began making wine in Russian River Valley. • So well received, that two years later, they converted all of their ranch lands to vineyards. • By the mid-1890s the Korbels shipped their first California “champagnes”
  26. 26. THE DARK AGES • Prohibition in the 1920s forced the family to rely on their other business interests • All three brothers passed before repeal in 1933
  27. 27. THE NEXT CHAPTER • 1930s-1950s – The Korbel children carried on the legacy • 1954 – The winery is sold to Adolf Heck who brings a new spirit and updated production • Adolf set out to pioneer what he described as "California-style" champagnes.
  28. 28. INNOVATIONS • In 1966, Adolf invented and patented the first automatic riddling machine. • Taking advantage of Sonoma County's ability to produce high-quality pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, he made world-class “champagne”.
  29. 29. NTH DEGREE CHARDONNAY • Winemaking taken to the “Nth Degree” • Livermore Valley Appellation • 23 Barrels produced • $80
  30. 30. WENTE VINEYARDS • Carl H. Wente, a German immigrant, purchases 47 acres of vineyard land in the Livermore Valley and builds a winery in 1883.
  31. 31. SURVIVING PROHIBITION • Sold grapes to home winemakers, sacramental wines to the church, raised cattle, hogs, sheep and grew barley and red oat hay.
  32. 32. THE WENTE CLONE • In 1912, Ernest Wente convinces his father to import cuttings from University of Montpellier in France and experiments with budwood from Gier Vineyard in early 20th Century. • Today, majority of Chardonnay planted in CA derives from Wente Clones.
  33. 33. POST-PROHIBITION SUCCESS • After 1933, Wente and Paul Masson are the only two with Chardonnay available. • Wente produces and releases the nation’s first varietally labeled Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon in 1936. • Second generation winegrower Herman Wente helps found California’s Wine Institute.
  34. 34. THIRD GENERATION • Third generation winegrower Karl L. Wente joins the winery, expanding national and developing international distribution. • He becomes a tireless spokesman for the California wine industry, and assists many fledgling growers and vintners.
  35. 35. WENTE TODAY • Still family owned • Winemaking by 5th Generation winegrower Karl D. Wente • Certified Sustainable • 130 years old in 2013
  36. 36. GDL CABERNET SAUVIGNON • Named for the winery’s founder, it is their premiere wine. • 100% Cabernet Sauvignon • $135
  37. 37. BEAULIEU VINEYARD • Started by Georges de Latour in 1900 with 4 acres in Rutherford • "beau lieu" means "beautiful place." • He purchased 128 more acres (BV #1) in 1903. • He imported Phylloxera- resistant rootstock from Europe to help California Vineyards
  38. 38. DEVOTION PAYS OFF • In 1908, BV signed a contract with the Catholic Church to provide sacramental wine. • In 1910, GdL buys 146 acres (BV #2) from the Church.
  39. 39. DRY TIMES • BV survives prohibition with their contract to the Church. • Increases business fourfold • GdL buys Fred Ewer winery in 1923. It would become the core of the present winery.
  40. 40. ANDRE TCHELISTCHEFF • In 1938, GdL travels to France and hires enologist Andre Tchelistcheff, who brings European winemaking expertise to California. • Cold fermentation, vineyard frost protection, malolactic fermentation • The development of regions in Carneros, Oregon and Washington. • He becomes a mentor to many.
  41. 41. HEARTY BURGUNDY • Their “original red blend” • Celebrating 50 years • “Gallo Hearty Burgundy is the best wine value in the country today.” – Robert Balzer • Proprietary blend • $6.99
  42. 42. E & J GALLO • Ernest and Julio Gallo, borrow capital from Ernest's mother-in-law, Teresa Franzia, and rent a warehouse at 11th and D streets in Modesto to start a winery in 1933. • By 1940, Ernest Gallo begins to develop store marketing strategies and a sales force.
  43. 43. THE BEGINNINGS OF A POWERHOUSE • The Gallo trademark is registered in most states by 1946. • Gallo runs its first television advertising in the 1950s. • Thunderbird is introduced in 1957: “What's the word? - Thunderbird.”
  44. 44. BECOMING A LEADER • Gallo becomes the biggest-selling wine in the United States for the first time in 1960, a position it cemented by 1966. • Boone's Farm apple wine is introduced in 1961. • Hearty Burgundy is introduced in 1964. • Andre Cold Duck is introduced 1967.
  45. 45. NATIONAL RECOGNITION • Ernest and Julio appear on the cover of Time magazine with an article titled "American Wine Comes of Age“ in 1972 • Also in that year, Carlo Rossi brand is taken national
  46. 46. TASTE MAKERS OF A GENERATION • E.&J. Brandy is released nationally in 1977. • The first vintage-dated Gallo wine, a 1978 cabernet sauvignon, is released in 1983. • Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers are released in 1984.
  47. 47. GALLO TODAY • World's largest family-owned winery • The largest exporter of California wine • More than 70 brands, in 9 different countries
  48. 48. FUME BLANC RESERVE • First to introduce “Fume Blanc” • To Kalon Vineyard • 95% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Semillon • $50
  49. 49. ROBERT MONDAVI • In 1943, Robert Mondavi joined his father Cesare and brother Peter after the family acquired Charles Krug Winery. • The winery grew in sales and reputation over the next two decades, due in part to Robert’s ambition.
  50. 50. CONFLICTS EMERGE • Cesare died in 1959 leaving Rosa as President with sons Robert as General Manager and Peter as Vice President. • In 1966, Robert moved south to Oakville and began construction of his own winery.
  51. 51. GLOBAL AMBITIONS • Robert Mondavi Winery was the first major winery built in Napa Valley in the post- Prohibition era. • One of the first goals? – recreate California Sauvignon Blanc
  52. 52. PROPHET FOR CALIFORNIA WINE • In 1968, Mondavi releases his first Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon • He begins a tireless pursuit of excellence and becomes an evangelist for California wines
  53. 53. A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP • In 1970, Mondavi meets Baron Philippe de Rothschild • Baron suggests the idea of a joint venture • This later becomes Opus One in 1980.
  54. 54. THE BIRTH OF THE WINE AUCTION • In 1981, Robert Mondavi’s vision of the Napa Valley Wine Auction is launched by the Napa Valley Vintners.
  55. 55. EDUCATING THE PUBLIC • In 1988, Mondavi launches the “Mission Program” to educate the public about wine • Mondavi is recognized by the CIA in 1991 and an “Ambassador”
  56. 56. HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE • Buena Vista – 100,000 cuttings, 350 varieties • Korbel – Sparkling wine production • Wente – Chardonnay clones • Beaulieu – Modern winemaking / Mentor to all • Gallo – Wine for the masses • Mondavi – California wine as a quality product
  57. 57. TIMELINE • 1857 - Buena Vista Winery • 1882 - F. Korbel & Bros. • 1883 - Wente Vineyards • 1900 - Beaulieu Vineyard • 1933 - E & J Gallo • 1966 - Robert Mondavi Winery
  58. 58. Michael Wangbickler Balzac Communications www.balzac.com mwangbickler@balzac.com http://www.slideshare.com/mwangbickler THANK YOU!