Wine Country History

Father of California Wine Father Junipero Serra & Eventual Influence On Napa Valley

The first recorded planting of a vineyard was by the Spanish Jesuit Missionary Eusebio Francisco Kino at Misión San Bruno in Baja California in 1683 implanting the first variety named "Misionero". In 1779, Franciscan missionaries under the direction of the Spanish Father Junípero Serra planted California's first sustained vineyard at Mission San Diego de Alcalá. Father Serra founded eight other California Missions. Hence, he has been called the "Father of California Wine". The variety he planted, presumably descended from Spain, became known as the Mission Grape and dominated California wine production until about 1880.


California wine is wine made in the California under strict rules and guidelines similar to France in branding labels and AVA's.


Almost three quarters the size of France California accounts for nearly 90 percent of American wine production. The production of wine in California alone is one third larger than that of Australia. If California were a separate country, it would be the world's fourth largest wine producer.


Contrary to popular belief California Wine did not originate in the Napa Valley. Starting in the early 1930s, commercial viticulture in California was mostly based in Southern California. California's first documented imported European wine vines were planted in Los Angeles in 1833 by Jean-Louis Vignes, the first commercial wine maker in the state.


William Wolfskill, another major early wine maker in California, purchased his first vineyard in 1838 in the Los Angeles area. By 1858 he owned 55,000 vines across 145 acres. Vignes and Wolfskill were the two major figures in California wine making in the 1830s and 1840s. Their success attracted others and increased interest in wine cultivation in Southern California.


In the 1850s and 1860s, Agoston Haraszthy, 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.


Considered one of the founders of the California wine industry, Haraszthy 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.


As home to both Buena Vista winery, California's oldest commercial winery, and Gundlach Bundschu winery, California's oldest family-run winery, the Sonoma Valley is known as the birthplace of the California commercial wine industry.


Although George Yount planted a small vineyard in Napa Valley in the mid-1830s, John Patchett planted the first commercial vineyard in Napa Valley in 1854 and established the first winery there in 1858.


In 1861 Charles Krug who previously had worked for Agoston Haraszthy and Patchett founded his namesake winery in St. Helena and began making his own wine.


Originally a Prussian political dissident, Krug learned the trade of the vintner as an apprentice to Haraszthy in the Sonoma Valley. The land on which Krug founded his winery was part of his wife's (Carolina Bale's) dowry. Krug became an important leader of winemaking in the Napa Valley. He was also a mentor for Karl Wente, Charles Wetmore and Jacob Beringer, all of whom became important vintners.


André Tchelistcheff is generally credited with ushering in the modern era of winemaking in California. Beaulieu Vineyards (BV) founder and owner Georges de Latour hired Tchelisticheff in 1938. He introduced several new techniques and procedures, such as aging wine in small French Oak barrels, cold fermentation, vineyard frost prevention, and malolactic fermentation.


Brother Timothy; a member of Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools was also very instrumental in the creation of the modern wine industry. After an earlier career as a teacher, he transferred to the order's Mont La Salle located on Mount Veeder in the Mayacamas Mountains west of Napa in 1935 to become the wine chemist for the order's expanding wine operations. The Christian Brothers had grown grapes since 1882 made wine in Martinez, California.


During Prohibition they kept the wine industry in Napa alive with legally made sacramental wine.


In 1932, they relocated to Napa, and returned to commercial production of wine and brandy following the repeal of Prohibition. The science teacher was a fast learner and soon established Christian Brothers as one of the leading brands in the state's budding wine industry; Brother Timothy's smiling face in advertisements and promotional materials became one of the most familiar images for wine consumers across the country.


In 1965, Napa Valley icon Robert Mondavi broke away from his family's Charles Krug estate to found his own in Oakville, California. It was the first new large-scale winery to be established in the valley since before prohibition. Following the establishment of the Mondavi estate, the number of wineries in the valley continued to grow, as did the region's reputation.


Some California wine makers began to produce quality wines but still had difficulty marketing them. Frank Schoonmaker, a prominent journalist and wine writer of the 1950s and 1960s introduced the German idea of labeling wines using varietal (Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Riesling) rather than semi-generic names borrowed from famous European regions (Burgundy, Chablis, Rhine, etc.). Robert Mondavi was one of the first to label the majority of his wines by varietal names and was tireless in promoting the practice.


By the late 1960s and early 1970s, the quality of some vintners' wines was outstanding but few took notice. On May 24, 1976, a blind tasting was held in Paris with a panel made up exclusively of French wine experts. After comparing six California Chardonnays with four French Chardonnays, three of the top four were Californian. Six of the nine judges ranked Chateau Montelena the highest; Chalone Vineyard came in third and Spring Mountain Vineyard fourth. When reds were evaluated, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars was ranked number one. This competition, now known as the "Judgement of Paris", focused a great deal of attention on wines from the Napa Valley.


The red wines evaluated in 1976 were retasted in two separate blind tastings (the French Culinary Institute Wine Tasting of 1986 and the Wine Spectator Wine Tasting of 1986) and also in The Wine Rematch of the Century. In all retastings, a California red was chosen first, while the French wines lost positions in the rankings.


Napa Valley the star of American Wine Country.


The prominence of Napa Valley wine on the world stage is largely due to the efforts of the higher profile vintners during the last 50 years. People like Robert Mondavi, Napa Valley’s greatest marketer, fully embodied the collective spirit and camaraderie that gave rise to our success and quality. The Paris tasting was the catalyst of Napa Valley's recognition as the premier wine region of the world second only to Bordeaux.


Recognition of that fact is the revenue behind Napa wines.


Napa grape costs are the highest priced in California, virtually all red wine made with Napa grapes must be retail priced at $40 or more per bottle for the winery to receive a reasonable profit.


The majority of Napa’s production is from two Bordeaux varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon (43%) and Merlot (11%). When the other three Bordeaux varieties, Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot are added, production totals 59% of Napa’s grape crop.


Wines from Napa Valley sell for about 61 percent more, on average, than wines from other regions in California, which is why Napa Valley wines cost about as much as wines from Bordeaux or Burgundy. How much you pay for a wine will largely depend on its quality and rarity above all else.


During the 2016 growing season a ton of Napa Valley Cabernet grapes sold on average for $6829.00 a ton from Sonoma sold for $2966.00, a ton from the coastal regions $1956.00, a ton from Southern California $1200.00. Napa Valley by far is king in price per ton.


Though Napa Valley is the premiere wine growing region it only produces 4 percent of California's wine. However it has more wineries than any region of the world. It provides a local annual economic impact of $15 Billion and a US impact of $50 Billion. Napa has 46,000 wine related jobs and influences 303,000 nationwide.


Napa Valley, America's premier wine region; owes a huge thank you to Spanish Jesuit Missionary Eusebio Francisco Kino and Spanish Father Junípero Serra for bringing the culture of wine to California. That vision of the 1600's helped shape Napa Valley and the wine industry of California today.


To learn more visit Wikipedia or the Napa Valley Vintners Association Website