History in the Bottle:
How the Grape Built "The American Riviera".
The Spanish "Mission" Grape
The Spanish grape first introduced to California was originally brought to the America's in 1520 by the Conquistador Hernan Cortez.
This varietal (cutting) was brought to the San Diego region from Mexico by Father Junipero Serra, known as the "Father of California Wine", in 1782. This varietal would soon find its way to most missions and became known as the "Mission" grape. Originally produced for communion and other religious purposes, the Missions located throughout California were the first and only producers of wine and spirits. The Mission at Santa Barbara became the second largest wine producer among all of the missions.
During the mid 1800's, most of the commercial production of wine was located in Southern California.
The Northern Gold Rush (1848-1855) saw the population of San Francisco explode from 1,000 to 25,000 people in a single year. This expansion of pan handlers and miners created a large demand for alcohol, including wine. The Northern California growing regions of Sutter County, El Dorado County, Napa County and Sonoma County, just to name a few, were first planted during the Gold Rush years to meet the growing demand for wine and spirits.
When the gold dried up in 1855, many miners threw away their shovels and pans and turned to the soil and fertile valleys of Napa and Sonoma to become winemakers.
By the late 1800's, 450 Vineyards containing some 260 acres with 17 winemakers dotted the landscape of Santa Barbara County.
The Mission grape continued to be the predominant varietal and the majority of wine was still being produced for religious purposes and localized consumption.
During the 1880's, the French Wine Industry was crippled with an outbreak of phylloxera. The price of French wines saw a substantial increase, and as a result, the world started purchasing California wines.
In 1884 Frenchmen Justinian Caire imported Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Zinfandel grape cuttings from his native lands, planting a vineyard of 150 acres on Santa Cruz Island near Santa Barbara. Other early growers planted French root stocks as well, and as a result, phylloxera came to California.
Even though phylloxera devastated a good portion of the vine stock, by the 1890's, California had 800 wineries, cultivating some 300 different grape varieties.
In 1919, after overcoming phylloxera and just as wine production was finding its foundation role in the State's growing Agriculture economy, the 18th Amendment was passed. Prohibition would completely destroy the California Wine Industry.
Some wineries were able to continue operating by converting operations to table-grape or grape-juice production and bottling.
A loophole allowed some wineries to continue producing sacramental wines.
Most notably was the rise in home wine-making. California passed legislation which allowed each home to “make 200 gallons of non-intoxicating cider and fruit juice per year.” As a result, cheaper wines and flavors became the norm.
Post Great Depression
Following the repeal of prohibition in 1933, only 140 wineries, of the 800 operating in 1919, remained. The loss of seasoned and experienced winemakers had negative effects on the restart of California wine production. Many who had set up small distribution circles through their efforts at home wine-making and spirits production would soon legally take their labors and product to the marketplace. As a result, the state would become famous for producing fortified, cheap blends, which offered nothing more than a cheap buzz.
Santa Barbara County experienced a boom in wine-making interest after several authorities on viticulture from the University of California at Davis, professors Maynard Amerine and Albert Winkler, stated that Santa Barbara County was one of the state's best growing regions for quality, fine wine.
The 1944 report, titled "Composition and Quality of Musts and Wines of California Grapes", would provide the legislative and business road map which would light the way for the Grape Economy throughout California.
New technologies also played a role in the development of quality wine. Cold sterilization, stainless steel combined with cold fermentation allowed vintners to produce an array of new white wines.
The Malolactic fermentation process became controlled and an assortment of wood barrels would be used for additional flavoring. The adoption and use of pure yeast cultures would also contribute to the production of quality wines.
The 60's & Beyond
As a result of putting the 1944 report to action throughout the state, the late1960's would usher in a new generation of amateur winemakers who shared the common goal of producing world class wines.