California Red Wine... World's Best Red Wines Right Here
California red wine is wine made in the U.S. state of California. Nearly three-quartersthe size of France, California accounts for nearly 90 percent of entire American wine production. The production in California alone is one third larger than that of Australia. If California were a separate country, it would be the world's fourth-largest red wine producer.
The state's viticultural history dates back to the 18th century when Spanish missionaries planted the first vineyards to produce California red wine for Mass. Following a wine renaissance in the mid-20th century, Californian red wine entered the international stage at the 1976 Judgment of Paris wine competition when Californian red wines beat out French wines. Today there are more than 1,200 wineries in the state.
The first recorded planting of a vinyard was by the Jesuit Missionary Eusebio Francisco Kino at San Bruno in 1683, but since the mission at San Bruno was abandoned about a year and a half after its founding, the vineyard likely never matured or was harvested. In 1779, Franciscan missionaries under the direction of Father Junípero Serra planted California's first sustained vineyard at Mission San Juan Capistrano, also the site of the first winery in 1783. Father Serra founded eight other missions before his death in 1784, these initially or eventually incorporating vineyards. Hence, he has been called the "Father of California Wine". The variety he planted, presumably descended from earlier Mexican plantings, became known as the Mission grape and dominated California red wine production until about 1880.
California's first documented imported European wine vines were planted in Los Angeles in 1833 by Jean-Louis Vignes. In the 1850s and 1860s, Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian soldier, merchant and promoter, made several trips to import cuttings from 165 of the greatest European vineyards to California. Some of this endeavor was at his personal expense and some through grants from the state. Considered one of the founders of the California red wine industry, Haraszthy contributed his enthusiasm and optimism for the future of California red wine, along with considerable personal effort and risk. He founded Buena Vista Winery and promoted vine planting over much of Northern California. He dug extensive caves for cellaring, promoted hillside planting, fostered the idea of non-irrigated vineyards and suggested redwood for casks when oak supplies ran low.
In 1863, species of native American grapes were taken to Botanical Gardens in England. These cuttings carried a species of root louse called phylloxera which attacks and feeds on the vine roots and leaves. Phylloxera is indigenous to North America and native vine varieties had developed resistance. European vines had no such evolutionary protection. By 1865, phylloxera had spread to vines in Provence. Over the next 20 years, it inhabited and decimated nearly all the vineyards of Europe. Many methods were attempted to eradicate phylloxera but all proved temporary and none economical.
Finally Thomas V. Munson, a horticulturist in Texas, suggested grafting the European vinifera vines onto American riparia rootsocks. So, there began a long, laborious process of grafting every wine vine in Europe over to American rootstocks. It was only in this manner that the European wine industry could be retrieved from extinction.
In 1879 Captain Gustave Niebaum established Inglenook Winery in Rutherford, California a small village (in Napa County, California). It was the first Bordeaux style winery in the USA. Captain Niebaum's wines became world renowned. His Inglenook wines won gold medals at the World's Fair of Paris in 1889.
During the period when the Europeans were contending with phylloxera, the American wine industry was ironically flourishing. By 1900, America had a fully developed and proud commercial wine producing business. Many California red wines received medals in European competitions. Barrels of California red wine were being regularly exported to Australia, Canada, Central America, England, Germany, Mexico and the Orient.
The destruction of the American wine industry would come not from phylloxeria but from Prohibition in the United States. Thirty-three states had gone dry at the outbreak of World War I. Wartime Prohibition was enacted in 1919, followed by the Volstead National Prohibition Act and the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920, forbidding the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors."
Through a loophole allowing each home to "make 200 gallons of non-intoxicating cider and fruit juice per year," thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens became home winemakers and bootleggers. Prices for fresh grapes shot up, because of the increased demand and a railroad shortage of refrigerated freight cars in which to ship them.
Growers began replanting fine wine variety vineyards to juice grape varieties that shipped well. The massive plantings produced a constant surplus of low-quality grapes that persisted until 1971.
By the time of National Repeal, effective December 5, 1933, the industry was in ruins. Although some wineries managed to survive by obtaining permits to make wines used for medicinal, sacramental and non-beverage additive purposes, production dropped 94% from 1919 to 1925.
Even after Repeal of Prohibition, several states stayed dry: Kansas until 1948, Oklahoma until 1957, and Mississippi until 1966. Seventeen states chose to establish monopoly liquor stores with limited selections. Today 10% of the US area and 6% of the population remain dry.
Anticipating Repeal, speculators and others soon flooded the legal market with quickly and poorly made wine. Dilettantes published books and articles warning Americans about rigid rules that must be followed to serve the proper wine with the proper food from the proper glass at the proper temperature. Faced with low quality products with which to risk committing social blunders and while remaining uncertain about the social acceptance of any alcohol, most Americans stayed away.
The only group of wines that sold well were the fortified dessert wines. Taxed at the lower rate of wine as opposed to distilled spirits, but with 20% alcohol, this group made the cheapest intoxicant available. Before 1920, table wines accounted for 3 of every 4 gallons shipped. After 1933, fortified wines were 3 of every 4 gallons shipped. It was not until 1968 that table wines sales finally overtook fortified wines, regaining the status of most popular wine category.
Before 1920, there were more than 2,500 commercial wineries in the United States. Less than 100 survived as winemaking operations to 1933. By 1960, that number had grown to only 271. California had 713 bonded wineries before Prohibition; it took more than half a century, until 1986, before that many were again operating.
Prohibition left a legacy of distorting the role of alcohol in American life and ruining a fledgling world-class wine industry, which took decades of work to overcome. Research at the University of California at Davis and Fresno State University greatly assisted the new breed of vintners who arrived in California in the 1960s and who were committed to producing wine of the highest international standards.
André Tchelistcheff is generally credited with ushering in the modern era of winemaking in California. Beaulieu Vineyards (BV) founder and owner Georges de Latour hired Tchelisticheff in 1938. He introduced several new techniques and procedures, such as aging California red wine in small French Oak barrels, cold fermentation, vineyard frost prevention, and malolactic fermentation.
Brother Timothy; a member of Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools was also very instrumental in the creation of the modern California red wine industry. After an earlier career as a teacher, he transferred to the order's Mont La Salle located on Mount Veeder in the Mayacamas Mountains west of Napa in 1935 to become the wine chemist for the order's expanding wine operations. The Christian Brothers had grown grapes and made sacramental wine in Benicia, California during Prohibition, but decided to branch out into commercial production of wine and brandy following the repeal of Prohibition. The science teacher was a fast learner and soon established Christian Brothers as one of the leading brands in California red wine industry; Brother Timothy's smiling face in advertisements and promotional materials became one of the most familiar images for wine consumers across the country.
In 1965, Napa Valley icon Robert Mondavi broke away from his family's Charles Krug estate to found his own in Oakville, California. It was the first new large-scale winery to be established in the valley since before prohibition. Following the establishment of the Mondavi estate, the number of wineries in the valley continued to grow, as did the region's reputation.
Some California red wine makers began to produce quality wines but still had difficulty marketing them. Frank Schoonmaker, a prominent journalist and wine writer of the 1950s and 1960s introduced the German idea of labeling wines using varietal (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling) rather than semi-generic names borrowed from famous European regions (Burgundy, Chablis, Rhine, etc.). Robert Mondavi was one of the first to label the majority of his wines by varietal names and was tireless in promoting the practice.
By the late 1960s and early 1970s, the quality of some vintners' wines was outstanding but few took notice. On May 24, 1976, a blind tasting was held in Paris with a panel made up exclusively of French wine experts. After comparing six California Chardonnays with four French Chardonnays, three of the top four were Californian. Six of the nine judges ranked Chateau Montelena the highest; Chalone Vineyard came in third and Spring Mountain Vineyard fourth. When reds were evaluated, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars was ranked number one. This competition focused a great deal of attention on wines from the Napa Valley.
The California red wines evaluated in 1976 were retasted in two separate blind tastings (the French Culinary Institute Wine Tasting of 1986 and the Wine Spectator Wine Tasting of 1986) and also in The Wine Rematch of the Century. In all retastings, a California red was chosen first, while the French wines lost positions in the rankings.
In Oz Clarke's New encyclopedia of Wine, Mr. Clarke writes that California "was the catalyst and then the locomotive for change that finally did pry open the ancient Europeanwineland's rigid grip on the hierarchy of quality wine and led the way in proving that there are hundreds if not thousands of places around the world where good to great wine can be made." He observes that "until the exploits of California's modern pioneers of the 1960s and '70's, no-one had ever before challenged the right of Europe's, and in particular, France's vineyards, to be regarded as the only source of great wine in the world."
Newer regions, producing award-winning wines, have entered the California red wine industry, including Temecula Valley wine country in the south, the Santa Ynez valley in the central coast, and in the Red Hills Lake County in the north. Backed by continuing research, California vintners continue to innovate in attempts to further enhance the quality and competitiveness of their products. The story of California red wine continues to evolve.
California is very geologically diverse region and is equally varied in the range of climates and terroirs that can be found. Most of California red wine regions are found between the Pacific coast and the Central Valley. The Pacific Ocean and large bays, like San Francisco Bay serve as tempering influences to the wine regions nearby providing cool winds and fog that balance the heat and sunshine. While drought can be a viticultural hazard, most areas of California receive sufficient amounts of rainfall with the annual rainfall of wine regions north of San Francisco between 24-45 inches (615–1150 mm) and the more southern regions receiving 13-20 inches. Winters are mild with little threat of frost damage though springtime frost can be a hazard. To curb the threat of frost, vineyard owners will often employ the use of wind machines, sprinklers and smudge pots to protect the vines.
While California's red wine regions can be generally classified as having a Mediterranean climate, there are also regions with more continental climates. Proximity to the Pacific or bays as well as unobstructed access to the cool currents that come off them will dictate the relative coolness of the wine region. Areas surrounded by mountain barriers, like some parts of Sonoma and Napa counties will be warmer due to the lack of this cooling influence. The soil types and landforms of California vary greatly, having been influenced by the plate tectonics of the North American and Pacific Plates. In some areas the soils can be so diverse that vineyards will establish blocks of the same vine variety planted on different soils for purpose of identifying different blending components. This diversity is one of the reasons why California has so many different and distinct American Viticultural Areas.
California has over 427,000 acres (1,730 km2) planted under vines mostly located in a stretch of land covering over 700 miles (1,100 km) from Mendocino County to the southwestern tip of Riverside County. There are over 107 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), including the well known Napa, Russian River Valley, Rutherford and Sonoma Valley AVAs. The Central Valley is California's largest red wine region stretching for 300 miles (480 km) from the Sacramento Valley south to the San Joaquin Valley. This one region produces nearly 75% of all California wine grapes.
The red wine regions of California are often divided into 4 main regions
North Coast - Includes most of North Coast, California, north of San Francisco Bay. The large North Coast AVA covers most of the region. Notable California red wine regions include Napa Valley and Sonoma County and the smaller sub AVAs within them. Mendocino and Lake County are also part of this region.
Central Coast - Includes most of the Central Coast of California and the area south and west of San Francisco Bay down to Santa Barbara County. The large Central Coast AVA covers the region. Notable California red wine regions in this area include Santa Clara Valley AVA, Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, San Lucas AVA, Paso Robles AVA, Santa Maria Valley AVA, Santa Ynez Valley and Livermore Valley AVA.
South Coast - Includes portion of Southern California, namely the coastal regions south of Los Angeles down to the border with Mexico. Notable California red wine regions in this area include Temecula Valley AVA, Antelope Valley/Leona Valley AVA, San Pasqual Valley AVA and Ramona Valley AVA.
Central Valley - Includes California's Central Valley and the Sierra Foothills AVA. Notable California red wine regions in this area include the Lodi AVA.
Grapes and Wines
Old vine Cabernet Sauvignon from Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley
Over a hundred grape varieties are grown in California including French, Italian and Spanish wine varietals as well as hybrid grapes and new vitis vinifera varieties developed at the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology. The seven leading grape varieties are:
Other important red wine grapes include Barbera, Cabernet franc, Carignane, Grenache, Malbec, Mouvedre, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Sangiovese. Up until the late 1980s, the Californian red wine industry was dominated by the Bordeaux varietals. Sales began to drop as wine drinkers grew bored with the familiarity of these wines. Groups of winemakers like Rhône Rangers and a new wine wave of Italian winemakers dubbed "Cal-Ital" reinvigorated the industry with new red wine styles made from different varietals like Syrah, and Sangiovese. The large variety of wine grape also encourages a large variety of red wines. California produces wines made in nearly every single known wine style including sparkling, dessert and fortified wines.
New World Wine Styles
While Californian red winemakers increasingly craft wines in more "Old World" or European wine styles, most Californian red wines (along with Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina) favor simpler, more fruit dominant New World wines. The reliably warm weather allows many wineries to use very ripe fruit which brings up a more fruit forward rather than earthy or mineralic style of California red wine. It also creates the opportunity for higher alcohol levels with many Californian red wines having over 13.5%. The style of California Cabernet Sauvignon that first put California on the world's wine map at the Judgment of Paris is still a trademark style today. The wines are known for their concentration of fruits and structure which produces lush, rich wines that can age well. Merlot became widely planted in the 1990s due to its wide popularity, and is still the highest selling of all varietal wines in the country. Many sites that were ill suited for the grape began to produce harsh, characterless wines trying to model Cabernet. Merlot planted on better sites tend to produce a plush, concentrated style. The profile of Californian Pinot noir generally favors a more intense, fruity style than the subtler, more elegant wines of Burgundy or Oregon. With the region generally being too warm for the variety, the cooler areas with more maritime influence are favored. Until being passed by Cabernet in 1998, Zinfandel was the most widely planted red wine grape in California. This was due in part to the wide popularity of White Zinfandel. Despite being made from the same grape, the only similarity between White and Red Zinfandel is the name. Red Zinfandel is a powerful, fruity wine with high levels of acidity and a jammy type flavor. Zinfandel is considered a unique American style grape.
Thank you Wikipedia for the reference material.
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