Wine—101

"A Tasting History of California Wine"

by Fred McMillin


THE SPANISH PERIOD—1769 to 1822

Franciscan Father Junipero Serra enters California in 1769 at San Diego. The friars make the state's first wine at Mission San Juan Capistrano about 10 years later. They had brought in the Mission grape, the same variety that Cortez's father sent him from Spain to make the first wine in the New World at Mexico City about 1524.

Wine A—1994 Mission by the Story Winery, Amador County. I wrote the text for the label on an earlier vintage of this wine. $18.


THE MEXICAN PERIOD—1822 to 1848

Mexico gains its independence from Spain and takes over the 21 Spanish missions. General Mariano Vallejo takes over the vineyard at the Sonoma mission and becomes the first commercial vintner in northern California. Later, he gives George Yount some vines to take east and make Napa Valley's first wine.

Wine B - 1989 M.G. Vallejo Cabernet Sauvignon, California, $7

Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, one of California's most colorful leaders of 1830-40's, founded the town of Sonoma in 1834. He was amoung the West's earliest commercial vintners and took great pride in sharing his wines with the statesmen and friends he so often entertained. He is pictured here in front of his Sonoma home where gracious hospitality was legend.

Vallejo Haraszthy, great-great grandson of M.G. Vallejo shown on the grounds of the historic family estate.

 

 

 


STATEHOOD AND THE GOLD RUSH—1848

California becomes a territory of the U.S.A. in 1848. The same year John Agustus Sutter in the Sierra Foothills writes General Vallejo that "I have made the discovery of a gold mine which, as far as we have investigated, is extraordinarily rich." Hordes of miners arrived in 1849, and wanted wine. The new Zinfandel was planted, along with the Mission, and was very popular in Amador and El Dorado counties.

Wine C—1995 Amador County Zinfandel by Sobon Estate; grapes are from Fiddletown, named after those who entertained the miners. $15.


THE "Father of California Viticulture" ARRIVES

Hungarian-born "Count" Agoston Haraszthy plants the world's largest vineyard at his Buena Vista winery, established in 1857. California has been a state for seven years. He imports 100,000 vines of 300 varieties. His wines replace those of General Vallejo as California's best.

Wine D—1994 Buena Vista Cabernet Sauvignon from the Carneros district, $16.


NAPA VALLEY'S FIRST COMMERCIAL VINTNER

German journalist Charles Krug learns winegrowing from Count Haraszthy & marries a relative of General Vallejo. His bride's dowry includes land near St. Helena, where he plants vines and in 1861 becomes the Napa Valley's first commercial vintner.

Wine E—1995 Charles Krug Merlot, Napa Vly., $15


THE SEVENTY-YEAR SLUMP—1880 to 1950

1880—The insect phylloxera devastates California vineyards. Charles Krug pioneers the solution, grafting the vines onto resistant rootstock from phylloxera's place of origin, New England.

1906—The great San Francisco earthquake. Buena Vista is destroyed and totally forgotten for decades.

1920—National Prohibition forces most wineries to close, though some like Beaulieu do well making sacramental wines, until the ban ends 13 years later.

1941—World War II reduces production and a wine shortage develops.


1970 to 1998—LEADING CONTEMPORARY WINEMAKERS

Zelma Long of Simi is among the top female winemakers in the world. She created the famous Simi Reserve Chardonnay in 1980. She is now president of Simi.

Wine F—1994 Simi Reserve Chardonnay, Sonoma County, $30.

Jed Steele is the leading winegrowing consultant in California today. While assisting others, he also makes his own outstanding wines, including Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Wine G - 1995 Steele Chardonnay, Mendocino County, Dennison Vineyard, $22.

David Bruce makes exquisite Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. When an intern at Stanford Medical School, he joined in the search for a boy missing in the Santa Cruz Mtns. Successful, he brought the boy to the home of a vineyardist, who served Dr. Bruce his first wine. Today, he has one of the state's most respected vineyards(on a ridge in those mountains).

Wine H - 1995 David Bruce Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains, Estate Bottled, $30.

Robert Mondavi is my nominee for the most important California vintner of the 20th century. His RESERVE wines are absolutely tops...Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay. He greatly expanded the sales of Sauvignon Blanc by creating Fume Blanc, a new name for it. He pioneered the sophisticated use of French oak in California winemaking.

Wine I - Robert Mondavi RESERVE Chardonnay, Napa Valley, $31.


THE FOUR LADIES OF GUENOC

Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, 19 year old daughter of the Dean of the Jersey Isle, marries the wealthy, handsome Edward Langtry in 1872, who sailed in on his yacht. She became the stunning actress, Lillie Langtry, was painted by Whistler, and later became a winemaker on the estate she bought in Guenoc Vly., north of the Napa Valley.

Emmeline A.M.K. Afong, a Hawaiian princess, in 1885 marries the dashing American sailor-lawyer, John Magoon. The University of Hawaii wants their land, which the Magoon trade for 23,000 Cal. acres including Lillie's.

Genevive Magoon asks sons Orville and Easton to plant a vineyard; great success followed.

Karen Melander-Magoon, current Manager of Public Relations and Marketing, has won about as many medals with her voice as the winery has with her wines. She's listed in the European "Who's Who in Opera." She's co-wine grower with Orville.

Wine J—'94 Guenoc Vintage Port, California, $25

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