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by Fred McMillin
for November 24, 1998

 

Happy Birthday, Father Serra


Prologue

Father Junipero Serra This is how Franciscan Father Junipero Serra got the job of bringing the first wine vines to California. The Jesuits had established a series of missions in Baja (south of California), and soon would enter the Golden State. Then, on June 24, 1767, the King of Spain issued this decree to his Mexican colony.

"Repair with an armed force to the houses of the Jesuits. Sieze the persons of all of them and within 24 hours transport them as prisoners to the port of Vera Cruz. If after the embarkation there should be found one Jesuit in that district, even if ill or dying, you (the head of Mexico) shall suffer the penalty of death."


The Rest of the Story

With the abrupt departure of the Jesuits, a 54-year-old theology professor was selected to take the cross (and the vine) to California. Fray Junipero Serra had been relatively comfortable during his 20 years of missionary work around Mexico City. Not so, once the Padre Presidente was settled in the new capital at Monterey-Carmel, at least as far as the wine supply was concerned.


The Great Crash of '83

Father Serra found himself standing in line with the soldiers to obtain a ration of wine for conducting mass. He wrote that "the lack of wine is becoming unbearable." Finally, his friars to the south at Mission San Juan Capistrano relieved the situation by producing and shipping a barrel of wine to Carmel in October 1783. How did it turn out? Junipero wrote, "When the barrel was being brought here, it fell off the mule, broke into pieces, and all the wine was lost!" Fortunately, other missions were able to provide wine for the use of the man who oversaw the arrival of the vine in California during his final months, which ended in August of the next year.


A Toast To Father Serra

Junipero's friars made white as well as red wine, so tonight my toast will be made with a white wine from Monterey County that my panel always finds to be a fine value.


The Wine

1996 Pinot Blanc (White Burgundy), Monterey County
Mirassou Winery (one of the first commercial Monterey wineries, founded exactly 71 years after that barrel crashed to earth)
Rating—RECOMMENDED, particularly with cream-sauced fish or chicken.
Contact—Dave Muret, 1-888-MIRASSOU
Price—$11 range


Postscript

Miguel Jose Serra greatly admired an associate of St. Francis of Assissi named Junipero (13th century), and hence took the name Junipero Serra.

 

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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Fred McMillin

 

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