by Fred McMillin
for May 19, 1999


San Gabriel Rang The Bell


"Our Old Vines Heritage Red comes from Rhone varietals planted in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains."

...Winemaker Chuck Carlson, Curtis Winery

The Rest of the Story

The Rhone Ranger interest in California-grown Rhone River French varietals is a recent development. What's this talk about old Rhone vines in the San Gabriel mountains? Here's the story.

Sept. 8,1771—The "Mision [sic] del Santo Arcangel San Gabriel de los Temblores" (Mission of the Holy Archangel Saint Gabriel of the Earthquakes) is established. It became the leading wine producer of all twenty one missions, making something like 500 barrels a year from its four vineyards. They had no Rhone varietals.

c.1865—The first Rhone varietals (Grenache, Mourvedre and Carignane) are brought to the San Gabriel Valley by Tennessee-born Benjamin Wilson, who helped make it California's leading wine region.

c.1890—A flood of Italians reached California, bringing Mediterranean favorites including Mourvedre and Carignane. Some of them are planted in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains. The descendants of these vines made today's wine.

Wine of the Day

Curtis Winery 1996 Heritage Old Vines Red
Curtis Winery, Santa Barbara County
Varietals—From 19th-century vines planted by European immigrants, including Mourvedre, Carignane and Grenache.
Type of Wine—These ancient vines yield but one ton of grapes per acre (new vines will give over four). Low yields = intense flavors. We won't say more, because this one is fun to discover for yourself.
Awards—It's already picked up medals in competition at Dallas, Orange County and the California State Fair (a gold).
The Winery—Bonded Winery #4890. Curtis is the former Carey Cellars, founded by the J.C. Carey family in 1971 in Santa Barbara County. Now Curtis is owned by Firestone Vineyard.
Contact—Shelley Machet, (805) 688-3940, FAX(805) 686-1256.
Price—$10 range (no wonder it won a Beverage Institute BEST BUY.)


Mission San Gabriel also made brandy. The most noted missionary distiller at the time was Father Narciso Duran. His brandy was described as "double distilled and twice as strong as the good father's faith."

Credits: Prof. Thomas Pinney, Prof. Erwin Gudde

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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