California’s Wine History

California’s Wine History

If you are a wine drinker, you have undoubtedly tasted a California wine. Why am I so certain? That’s easy, around ninety percent of wine produced in the United States comes from this glorious sunny state. Dating all the way back to the 1600’s, Californians have been perfecting their winemaking skills and impeccable vineyards for quite some time.


In 1779 the first maintained vineyard was planted by none other than a visiting Spanish Missionary. This first vineyard was planted at the first of 21 missions established in California. These first grapes were planted and cultivated for the purpose of making wine for sacramental purposes.


Around 50 years later a Frenchman arrived and decided to commercialize the California wine. The Bordeaux native immediately noticed the potential and began importing a variety of vinifera. Funny enough, his first vineyard was located on the land that is now present-day downtown LA. This gentleman’s name was Jean Louis Vignes.


The discovery of gold was key to shaping the California wine industry. Now, that might not make sense at first, but understanding what shaped the culture and its inhabitants is important to the larger picture. The gold rush brought so many Europeans in search of a better life. Of course, future be told, not everyone struck it rich with gold, but there certainly was a wealth of knowledge. Many of these Europeans were well versed in growing grapes and making wine, and California’s ideal growing conditions were no secret.


Other factors that helped shape the California wine industry include:

  • 1. Count Agoston Haraszthy and his cuttings
  • 2. Transcontinental Railroad System
  • 3. Founding of what became the Department of Viticulture and Enology
  • 4. Devastating factors included: Prohibition, Great Depression, & World War II. From these, Californians had to start just about from scratch and rebuild the industry.
  • 5. It wasn’t until 1976 that California wines became celebrities. At the Judgement of Paris, these west coast wines beat out both white and red French wines.


Today the California wine industry continues to boom. In 2011 exports reached an all-time high of 1.39 billion dollars in revenues. I think we can all say cheers to that!