California has a rich history of winemaking. Dating back almost 250 years, the area has endured many ups and downs en route to becoming prominent region it is today.
The first vines were planted by early missionaries as far back as the seventeenth century. Aiming at producing wine solely for religious purposes, they were met with little success. Around one hundred years later, Father Junipero Serra is credited for producing the first sustained harvests. The Franciscan missionary founded a number of missions and vineyards in the region and is regarded as the father of Californian wine.
Commercial Wine Making
In the 1830s, Frenchman Jean-Louis Vignes introduced commercial winemaking to the area. With a vineyard located in what is now Los Angeles, he imported cuttings from around Europe, including his native Bordeaux. The following years saw a wave of immigrants settling in the area search of gold. It was around this time that Hungarian Agoston Haraszthy founded a number of vineyards. Making several trips to and from Europe to import cuttings, he helped promote quality and diversity.
By the late nineteenth century the ball was rolling, and Californian wine was being exported and enjoyed back in Europe. Production was hit however, when a pest known as Phylloxera contaminated the vines. Native vines had developed an immunity, but the imported European vines were decimated, setting the region back many years.
A killer blow was dealt in 1919 by prohibition. The nationwide ban on production and sale of alcohol force most vineyards to close, leaving a small cottage industry behind. Although prohibition was repealed in the 1930s, the region took much longer to recover.
Wine Making Resurgence
In the 1960s, despite a surge in production, quality was still relatively poor, California had become known worldwide as a maker of sweet, port-style wines. In the 70s, however, a new generation of winemakers emerged who introduced new technology with the aim of putting Californian wine back on the map. Two of these winemakers were Jim Barrett and Warren Winiarski, who upset the wine world at an event known as the Judgement of Paris. Several Californian wineries were invited to compete against their French counterparts in a blind tasting event in Paris. Barrett and Winiarski defied the odds when they won the award for best white and red respectively.
Wine Making Tomorrow
Fast forward to today and California is the largest wine producing region in the new world. Recognised worldwide as a maker of top quality wines, it has come a long way in a short space of time. Looking ahead, there is change on the horizon. The ever present threat of climate change will have a serious effect on the grape harvest, global warming could force production northwards into new territory. As vineyards spring up in Oregon and Idaho, Californian wine could become a treasured artifact.