California Wine – A Look Back in Time

Within various realms such as culture, lifestyle, nature, food, and of course weather, the Golden State is a fierce force to be reckoned with.  And when it comes to wine, the story is no different.  California currently produces 90% of the entire production of wine here in the US…A quantity so high that if California were to become its own country – one could only dream – it would rank as the 4th largest producing country on the planet.  But as if the sheer numbers in production aren’t enough to convince the masses, the constant influx of annual wine tourism in Napa and Sonoma will do the trick.

And despite the global consensus that real California wine is but a handful of decades old, interestingly enough, winemaking here actually dates back as far as the late 1700s as Catholic monks began introducing vitis vinifera vines to the uncharted land.  The “Mission Grape”, as the monks called it, was the principal varietal of that era and was primarily produced for religious use.

That remained the case for a long while until the mid-1800s when a Hungarian-American gentleman by the name of Agoston Haraszthy brought European vines to California, christening him as the “Father of California Viticulture.”   It was also during this point in history when the infamous Gold Rush brought hundreds of thousands of gold-seekers to California, heavily influencing the increase of the state’s wine industry and introducing both the Napa and Sonoma counties to the wine world.  The development of California wine production was on the up and up until it was significantly depleted by the controversial Prohibition of the 1920s.  After being almost fully swept from underneath its feet, it took decades worth of valiant efforts from industry pioneers such as the Gallo brothers, Robert Mondavi, and several others to get California back on its legs and running again.

But even with these intrepid wine renegades, for many years the rest of the world still viewed California’s wine industry as the Wild West.  It wasn’t until the mid-1970s with the arrival of legendary British wine expert Steven Spurrier when things were all about to change.  Seeing the evident potential for high quality wine production in the new world, Steven sourced the very best of California wine that he could find and organized the famous Judgment of Paris in 1976.  California’s first chance to catch its real break, a panel of nine French judges blindly tasted Burgundy whites and Bordeaux reds against California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The results shocked the world when Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay and Stag’s Leap’s 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon both topped the scores over their French counterparts.  This event was the monumental breakthrough that put California on the right path to becoming one of the world’s finest wine regions.

Today, one can find just about any type and style of wine right here in California.  From Napa’s cult cabs, to the elegant Burgundian style wines of the Sonoma Coast, to the mountainous Bordeaux blends of Mendocino, and even the experimental Italian varietal wines, this state has it all.  And as one of the world’s leaders in highly-expensed vinification systems that promote meticulous and well-controlled winemaking, the sky’s the limit for California wine.


About juju (57 Articles)
wine extraordinaire, world traveler, animal lover, indie music fanatic :D

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