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9 The Southwest and California
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The Beginnings in Northern California

Winegrowing in northern California did not wait upon the Gold Rush, though of course that event transformed it. Like the southerners, the early settlers in the north had the winegrowing example of the missions before them—San Jose, Santa Clara, and Sonoma especially. The vineyards and wine production of these establishments were, however, much smaller than those of the missions to the south, and though their wines and brandy enjoyed a good reputation, they cannot have been in very great supply: the vineyard at Sonoma, for example, seems to have been less than an acre in extent, and of the two vineyards at Mission San Jose that survived secularization, the larger contained only 4,000 vines.[111]

The first layman to grow grapes in the north was, so far as the record goes, the original commandante of Alta California, and later the governor of the province, Pedro Fages, who planted a garden with vines at Monterey around 1783.[112] Despite this precocious beginning, however, winegrowing in the northern part of the state was very slow to spread and develop. There were vineyards here and there, of course, besides those of the missions. Kotzebue mentions the grapes of the pueblo of Santa Clara in 1824,[113] and later visitors to the place also remarked on the local vineyards. General Vallejo, who presided over the secularization of the mission at Sonoma in 1835, took over the mission's vineyard, located just off the plaza of the. tiny village he had founded there. In view of the later importance of Sonoma to the. California industry, much has been made of the importance of this beginning; it remained only a beginning, however, until after 1849. Sir George Simpson, the British administrator of the Hudson's Bay Company's territories and an intrepid explorer, visited Vallejo at Sonoma in 1841. The general had, Sir George wrote, a vineyard of only about three hundred square feet, inherited from the mission priests but replanted by Vallejo, yielding around 540 gallons of wine.[114]


Other growers in the north before 1849 were so few that almost all of them may be mentioned. George Yount, a mountain man who came to California with William Wolfskill and moved to the north, has the distinction of having planted the first grapes in the Napa Valley (where he had settled two years earlier, at what is now Yountville but was then the Caymus Rancho) in 1838. Yount's vines grew from cuttings taken from Vallejo's at the Sonoma Mission; Napa Valley wine, therefore, is originally derived from the Sonoma Valley, a fact that will give pleasure to the partisans of Sonoma in the rivalry between California's two best-known wine valleys.[115] Yount's beginning was followed by Dr. Edward Bale, an Englishman, who planted vines at his home north of St. Helena on a ranch he acquired in 1841 (he got it through Vallejo, whose niece he had married). Some time around 1846 Florentine Kellogg, a settler from Illinois, also planted grapes at St. Helena, as did Reason P. Tucker. To the north, in Tehama County, the county's pioneer settler, Peter Lassen, a Dane, set out a small vineyard in 1846 that was ultimately transformed into the huge Vina Vineyard of Leland Stanford later in the century.[116] To the east of Napa, in what is now Solano County, an outpost of southern California viticulture was established at the Rio de los Putos Rancho, the joint property of William Wolfskill and his brother John. John took up residence on the property in 1842 and set out a small vineyard of Mission grapes in the spring of 1843.[117]

In Contra Costa County, across Suisun Bay at the foot of Mount Diablo, Dr. John Marsh had a small vineyard in 1846, from which he made wine. Besides Mission vines he had Isabella and Catawba—a not uncommon circumstance in the early days. Easterners were familiar with their native grapes and were probably profoundly skeptical about vinifera's chances, even in a country where it was known to succeed. Marsh, a Yankee and a difficult man, was later murdered, so that his contribution to California's early winemaking history did not come to much.[118] A few more names make the list of early northern growers before the Gold Rush substantially complete: Nicholas Carriger, Jacob Leese, and Franklin Sears in Sonoma, Antonio Sunol and Juan Bernal in Santa Clara County.[119] Perhaps the most telling remark at this time is William Heath Davis's statement that, when in 1846 he gave an elaborate engagement party on board his merchant ship anchored in Monterey Bay, he served wine, but not local wine: "California wine was not in general use at that time as a beverage," he explains.[120] The southern part of the state was not yet exporting it with any regularity, and the north was not yet growing enough.

At the end of 1848 California is estimated to have had about 14,000 inhabitants, exclusive of Indians—probably the number was not really even that large. Four years later, after the crisis of gold at Sutter's Mill, the official state census recorded a population of 224,000.[121] The explosive rise in numbers is not exactly paralleled in viticulture, but it is certainly true that from 1849 onwards, winegrowing in California enters on a different order of magnitude from what it had known


The vines of the Coloma Vineyard went back to 1852, planted by the German Martin Allhoff
 and the Scotsman Robert Chalmers. The winery was built by Allhoff, but on his death came 
into the hands of Chalmers. This advertisement, from T. Hart Hyatt's  Hand-Book of Grape 
 (2d ed., 1876), is notable for the prominence still given to the old American hybrids 
in California—Catawba, Isabella, and, perhaps, "Native (white and red)." (California State
 University, Fresno, Library)


before. One of the first districts to show the results of extensive new vine planting was the Mother Lode country itself, especially in Amador, E1 Dorado, Sutter, and Tuolumne counties. Vines were planted as early as 1849 at Coloma in E1 Dorado County and at Bear River in Sutter County.[122] By 1856, the first year for which any figures are available, the four counties named above had some 70,000 vines; two years later the figure was 205,000, the largest number growing in E1 Dorado County, followed by Tuolumne, Sutter, and Amador.[123] These were all small plantings, and, though the Gold Rush country continued to be a significant section of California viticulture, it is not where the most important parts of the nineteenth century industry developed. That was in the counties to the north and south of San Francisco Bay, in the valleys and along the foothills of Sonoma, Napa, and Santa Clara counties especially, where winegrowing had been tentatively begun before the Gold Rush. Other northern counties had vineyards too: vines were planted at Stockton, in San Joaquin County, in 1850; the first vineyard in Stanislaus County was planted in 1852, and the first in Yolo County went in about the same time.[124]

Since the Gold Rush had attracted every sort of person from every part of the world, the early winegrowers were a diverse lot—Germans and Dutchmen, Frenchmen, Yankees, and Englishmen were all among the pioneers. Sutter himself, the Swiss adventurer and feudal-style landholder on whose land gold was first found, after losing most of his property in the rush that followed, turned to wine-growing on his Hock Farm, as he called it, on the Feather River south of Yuba City, where a vineyard had been set out in 1851.[125] Sutter, sad to say, was an alcoholic, whose interest in his wines was neither wholly commercial nor at all good for him. The man who actually made the discovery of gold, James Marshall, a native of New Jersey, also owned a vineyard in Coloma County where the discovery had been made.[126] In Tuolumne County, in 1853, a group of five Frenchmen planted a vineyard that, in five years, is said to have grown to 30,000 vines and to have yielded over sixty tons of grapes.[127] Many other names might be given to illustrate the international style of pioneer winegrowing in the north—names such as Gerke, Justi, Thee, Lefranc, Krug, Wubbena, Fabricius, and Votypka—but the point is sufficiently plain: just as it had been in the south around Los Angeles, winegrowing in the Gold Rush country and around San Francisco Bay was a cosmopolitan enterprise in which Maine fishermen and Illinois farmers were equally welcome with viticulteurs from Bordeaux and Weinbauern from the Rhine.

It was not until the middle of the 1850s that a genuinely booming development in winegrowing came about in the north. By that time the first and most violent years of the gold fever were over, and men were ready to think about more permanent bases for the state's economy. Winegrowing looked especially attractive, for the considerable trials that had already been made showed that the vine would grow almost anywhere in the state. At the same time, news of the great vine disease, the oidium , in Europe, led the papers to prophesy the imminent demise of winegrowing in the Old World and an unlimited opportunity for the New. Bacchus would be compelled to emigrate, and would become an American citizen with all


those Frenchmen and Germans who had preceded him. After 1855, under the rallying cry of "California, the vineyard of the world,"[128] plantings increased by leaps and bounds. The statistics, even though they are probably quite unreliable in detail, tell a plain story. Santa Clara County, for example, is reported to have had 30,000 vines in 1855; in the next year the figure was 150,000; in 1857, it was 500,000.[129] Another significant first for these years occurred in 1857, when the first wine shipped from Napa County to San Francisco went to market—a modest quantity of "six casks and six bottles."[130] For the state as a whole the increase in plantings was quite dramatic: in 1856 there were, according to figures published in the State Register , 1,500,000 vines; in 1857, 2,265,000; and in 1858, 3,954,000. The total thus more than doubled by a good deal in the short space between 1856 and 1858. Nor was the growth confined to the north: Los Angeles made the greatest advance, doubling its plantings in the years in question.[131] By 1862 there were 8,000,000 vines in the state.[132]

The spirit of these first boom years is well expressed in the report made by the committee on grapes at the annual exhibition of the California Horticultural Society in 1858:

When it is remembered that the grape grows to the greatest perfection next to the very placers of gold—that some ten millions of acres of land in our state can be cultivated in this noble fruit—that the commercial value of the products of the grape trade in Europe is worth two hundred and two millions of dollars, and employs some five millions of people in making wines, brandies, raisins, tartar, and in an infinitude of trades as coopers, coppersmiths, carpenters, glass makers, cork cutters, etc., and also employs a commercial marine of some two thousand ships, it will be seen what a glorious prospect of advancing power and greatness the cultivation of this ancient and valued fruit opens to our State. It is absolutely as valuable and as feasible a mine of wealth to us, as our mines of gold, silver, copper and quicksilver, besides being a more grateful and humanizing employment.[133]

The level of knowledge and experience at the beginning of the boom in the mid fifties was not yet very high. The California Farmer , a San Francisco weekly that made the promotion of winegrowing a special mission, was still, in 1855, drawing most of its advice and information about grape growing and winemaking from sources outside the state—typically from Ohio, or even from Massachusetts. It also recommended the eastern hybrids—Catawba especially—to the growers of California, a sure sign that not much local experience had yet accumulated.[134] Nevertheless, the means for assisting and developing the state's winegrowing were quickly forming in these years. In 1854 the California State Agricultural Society was chartered, and it at once began to help the wine industry. It sent visiting committees throughout the state to report on vine growing and winemaking; it made competition between the growers for premiums an important part of the annual state fair, and it disseminated information through its Transactions . The best-known publication of this sort that it commissioned was the "Report on Grapes and Wine


of California," written by the remarkable Colonel Haraszthy of Buena Vista, Sonoma County. Haraszthy's treatise, which was devoted mostly to practical notes on vine growing and winemaking, appeared originally in the society's Transactions for 1858, and was then reprinted in quantity for statewide distribution. It is in keeping with the international character of the state's winemaking tradition that Haraszthy was a Hungarian who had reached California by way of Wisconsin.

By 1859 the industry was large enough to become visible to the state legislature; an act of that year exempted new vine plantings from taxation until they were four years old, so that growers would not have to pay on their investment until they had a crop to enable them to meet the tax.[135] Apart from the useful work of the State Agricultural Society, this was the first official act in favor of the wine industry in California. It was soon followed by another in 1861, when the legislature established a "Commission upon the Ways and Means best adapted to promote the Improvement and Growth of the Grape-vine in California";[136] the work of this body will be described later in connection with its most active member, Colonel Haraszthy.

The work that Haraszthy is best remembered for was his importation of large quantities of European grape varieties to supplant the Mission grape, which dominated in the north as well as in the south. He has been given far too much credit for pioneering in the business, however, as a quick review of other men's contributions before Haraszthy will show. It did not take even uninstructed vine growers long to discover that something better than the Mission must be found if California wines were ever to improve. Jean Louis Vignes and Kohler & Frohling have already been mentioned as pioneers in introducing other varieties than the Mission to the southern vineyards. In the north, in the 1850s, there were a good many others who were active in trying to improve the stock of varieties available to the California vineyardist. Their efforts constitute a distinct chapter in California history and are worth emphasizing all the more since they have been so little recognized until quite recent years.

The growers and nurserymen of Santa Clara County were the leaders in this work, and among them the French were the most prominent: unlike most Americans, they knew for certain that one could do better than the Mission. The first grower known to have introduced superior varieties to the north was Pierre Pellier, who brought vines with him from the Bordeaux region about 1852 (the exact date is disputed), to be planted in his brother's nursery and vineyard near San Jose. In 1854 Pierre returned to France for more and better cuttings; it is said that, on the return voyage in 1856, the ship's supply of water was nearly exhausted by the long voyage and the cuttings were in danger of dying. Pellier bought up the ship's supply of potatoes, slit them, and saved his cuttings by inserting them into the moist potatoes. By this ingenious means, California received its first Grey Riesling, French Colombard, and Folle Blanche.[137]

Among other Santa Clara Frenchmen, Louis Prevost of San Jose had some sixty different varieties of grape planted in the 1850s.[138] Antoine Delmas, his neigh-


Advertisements for grapevines in the  California Farmer , 21 March 1861. 
On the left Smith's Gardens of Sacramento offers 200,000 cuttings of "foreign"
 vines (that is, any vinifera other than the Mission grape); on the right, Antoine 
Delmas of the French Garden, San Jose, offers assistance with winemaking and 
distilling as well as grapes for table and winemaking. The "California grapes" 
offered by Louis Provost were presumably the Mission variety Such were the 
resources available to California vineyardists well before Agoston Haraszthy 
left California for Europe.

bor and fellow Frenchman, had the most extensive of all early varietal collections in California.[139] Delmas had imported 10,000 cuttings from France in 1854, when he received a special premium from the State Agricultural Society for the "best and largest varieties of foreign grapes."[140] When Delmas took the first prize for wine at the state fair of 1859, his superior grape varieties were probably a reason for his


success. By 1858 Delmas's collection had swelled to 350,000 vines of 105 different varieties.[141] Still another Santa Clara County Frenchman, Charles Lefranc, set out a vineyard of foreign varieties in 1857.[142]

The French were not the only ones to follow this line towards improving California wine. Jacob Knauth, the son of a Johannisberg winemaker, imported the Orleans grape from the Rhine for planting near Sutter's Fort in 1853; this furnished the basis for his well-known Orleans Hill Vineyard in Yolo County, beginning in 1860.[143] Another German, Frank Stock, in 1858 introduced to San Jose such great varieties from his native country as the Riesling, Sylvaner, and Traminer.[144] And various Americans contributed too: Bernard Fox, of the Stockton Ranch Nursery, was advertising nineteen varieties of vinifera as early as 1854; three years later Fox moved his business north of San Jose, where by 1858 he had eighty-six different varieties in his stock.[145] L. A. Gould and William Thomburg of Santa Clara and the Englishman James Lowe of San Jose all had vineyards of different varieties by 1858—Gould had seventy, Thomburg, sixteen.[146] In San Joaquin County, adjoining Santa Clara on the northeast, the nurserymen William and George West imported forty varieties of grape from Boston in 1853; from this stock, it is said, the earliest vineyards of the county were propagated. The Wests themselves developed the E1 Pinal Vineyard, one of the famous names in the winemaking of the nineteenth century.[147] In Napa County, varieties other than the Mission were being grown at the vineyard of the Thompson brothers south of Napa City by 1856; two years later they had some forty-five different varieties available in their nursery.[148] Sam Brannan, who began developing his Calistoga vineyards in 1859, collected thousands of cuttings from France, Spain, Germany, and Italy.[149] And in Sonoma, with which the introduction of superior varieties to California is particularly associated on account of Haraszthy's work, the first new varieties seem to have been brought in by the brothers Shaw, transplanted Vermonters who brought their "foreign grapes" from Los Angeles in 1856.[150] As a final instance, one may name A. P. Smith of Sacramento, who offered more than a hundred varieties of vinifera for sale in 1859 after several years of experimental trials. Smith had also made wine from some twenty of the varieties he offered for sale; one of them was the Black St. Peters, which there is reason to think may have been a variant name for the Zinfandel.[151]

It is evident from this rapid summary that the need for better varieties was well recognized and that the work of introducing them was well begun a good many years before Haraszthy made his famous collecting tour of the wine regions of Europe in 1861. To call attention to this fact is not to deny Haraszthy's contribution but to put it into a more sensible historical perspective. Like most critical events, the introduction of new and better varieties into California did not happen all at once, nor was it the work of a single hand. Haraszthy was one among many contributors, and far from the first. One should not forget, either, that the U.S. government was actively identifying and disseminating improved varieties of native grapes for the eastern states. The example would not have been wholly lost on the Californians. Eastern vines, as has been noted, were included among those tried


by California vineyardists in the 1850s. Longworth's success with Catawba naturally led the Californians to imitate what he had done, but though Catawba wines were made in California, and others from such native hybrids as the Diana and the Isabella, it was pretty generally concluded that the future did not lie that way. The natives persisted for some time in a small way, however. Nurserymen continued to offer the old favorites like Catawba and Herbemont, and when the State Vinicultural Society commissioned the handsome illustrated Grapes and Grape Fines of California in 1877, one of the ten varieties represented was the Catawba. As late as 1886 A. Langenburger of Anaheim was offering "genuine LeNoir wine" for sale.[152] According to Leon Adams, the last Catawba vineyard in California, in Santa Clara County, endured until 1969.[153]

At the end of the 1850s, the northern region of California, where ten years earlier no commercial winegrowing had existed at all, was a serious competitor to the southern part of the state. The census of 1860, whose figures for wine production are certainly far below the actual gallonage, reports that California made 246,518 gallons of wine in that year. Of this, Los Angeles produced 162,980 gallons; San Bernardino and Santa Barbara Counties, the other contributors from the south, added some 19,000 gallons more. The rest—some 64,000 gallons—came from the new northern regions of the Mother Lode counties and the lands around San Francisco Bay.[154] It was evident that, at this rate, Los Angeles and the south would soon be overtaken, as in fact happened within the next ten years. The advantage of the north lay not only in its relation to the much larger population of metropolitan San Francisco but also in its topography and climate. About soils it is difficult to generalize—the vine takes to all sorts, and a demonstrable correlation between soil type and wine quality is not uniformly possible (at least it has not been in this country: the French think differently). But one can say that the terrain of the north was much more varied than that of the south, cut up as it is into a myriad hills and valleys ranging from the regions of coastal fog to the high, snowy Sierra. In the south, the coastal range is higher and more sterile, the valleys are larger and flatter, and the influence of the contiguous desert more troublesomely felt.

Climate is demonstrably the most important of external factors for the vine, and within the notion of climate, sunshine and rain are the key elements. Though the southern region has by no means a single, uniform climatic character, it is, to put it as simply as possible, both hotter and drier. The cooling effect of the ocean is. lost when one has penetrated only a few miles into the interior valleys; the rivers; flow only during the winter rainy season, and irrigation is the necessary condition of growing crops, with unimportant exceptions. In these circumstances of dryness and heat, the grape will respond quite vigorously, but not in the way best adapted to the making of fine, well-balanced table wines, the standard by which any wine-making country is to be measured. Instead, as the grapes swell with rich, sugar-laden juice under the generative power of the sun, the acid content sinks proportionately. The result, even when one has the best varieties available, is a wine flat


and flabby, or, as tasters say, out of balance. Without very sophisticated means of measurement and control, then, means quite unavailable in the nineteenth century, the grower in a region like the south of California will not be able to make a superior table wine; more often than not he cannot make even a good one. Owing to the high sugar content and low acid of his grapes, he can make admirable, even outstanding, sweet wines, and it was on that style of wine that Los Angeles grew more and more to concentrate. But if it is not to be a mere supplier of aperitifs and dessert wines, an industry must depend on good, sound dry table wine, and for this requisite the north had an irresistible advantage over the south. In favored northern districts, the sunshine is long enough and strong enough to bring grapes to full ripeness, yet not so strong as to raise the sugar out of balance with the indispensable acid content. Winter rains are sufficient to allow the vines to grow without summer irrigation; the circumstance is important, because irrigation, for complex chemical reasons, has the result of causing the vine and its fruit to flourish vegetatively at the expense of winemaking quality.

The men in the north must have begun to realize their advantage in no very long time, but the judicious among them knew that so young an enterprise had most of its work still in front of it—that is, indeed, still true, for the refinements of winegrowing can only arise out of long-continued experience of a kind still not attained in the United States; the two millennia and more of European experience remind us that we need not be particularly anxious on this score. On the other hand, it is remarkable how quickly the winegrowing possibilities of the state had been explored, at least by way of beginning: the south, the San Francisco Bay region, and the foothills of the Sierra were all tested in a significant way by the middle of the century. Among today's important winegrowing regions, only the great Central Valley and the Salinas Valley were untried by that point—although of course these are very large omissions.

On the whole, while admitting the precocity of California's development, the historian should probably emphasize how young and untaught the wine industry was. In 1860 the Committee on Wines of the State Agricultural Society confessed that "most of our people have never seen a vineyard. Whoever will enlighten [them] on the most approved modes of culture, and, above all, the scientific and practical treatment of the grape juice in the making of wine will be a great public benefactor."[155] At the state fair of the year before, for example, the judges analyzed one specimen of table wine and found it to have 15 percent alcohol and 0.28 percent acid—a grotesque imbalance. They concluded, with gentle understatement, that the state's winemakers had not yet "reached that standard of perfection which our climate and soil must one day enable them to attain."[156]

After a tour of vineyards and wineries north and south, a not very friendly Yankee visitor in 1867, Charles Loring Brace, affirmed less charitably that "in fact, on a broad scale, the wine-making of California has been a failure." The wines lacked character and were too alcoholic, he said—faults both of the varieties from which they came and of the methods by which they were made. There was no


good, light, cheap table wine, and at the same time the industry had too self-congratulatory an opinion of itself; everybody conspired to compliment the wine-growers, whereas, Brace thought, "there is nothing that California needs so much in developing her resources as a little truth-speaking"—especially in making judgment on her wines.[157]

Brace was perhaps too harsh. Another voice, that of a Californian devoted to promoting the resources of the state, and himself a winegrower, puts the case more mildly and dispassionately. John S. Hittell, the author of The Resources of California (1863), after making the standard observation that "California is a favorite land of the grape," goes on to say that growers do not yet know what the right soils are or the right grapes for them in the large and varied territories of the state. Nor have the winemakers learned their trade:

It is certainly no easy matter to make fine wine out of the Mission grape, and most of our wine-makers have little experience in the business. Again, they send their wine to market too soon after it is made. They often use old barrels and bottles, which may give a taste to the wine. They have also been too careless in pressing grapes before they were fully ripe, and without picking out the green and rotten fruit.[158]

It is no disgrace to the early growers that such things could be said of them; but it would be many years before they could say that the charges did not apply.


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9 The Southwest and California
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