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.