Today’s Western View is all about celebrating California Wine month, during September.
It comes at a good time. Between the drought, the Covid Delta variant, a recall election, and harvest season, we all could probably use a bit of the grape to see us through. And we have some marvelous choices of grape to choose from, with some of the best wines in the world created on small and large vineyards right here, among the citrus, stone fruit and row crops of California’s rich farmland.
So this is the month we celebrate over 250 years of winemaking in our Golden State, and we honor the people who make California wines so popular.
I’m not just bragging. With nearly 5,000 wineries in the state, California is the world’s fourth-largest wine producer and the source of over 80 percent of the country’s total wine production. Our wines have won the respect of the world, as well as many awards and top prizes at the most prestigious wine competitions.
But achieving this level of success has not been easy. The California Wine Industry has had its ups and downs. It all began with the Spanish invasion of California, and their first missions along the coast. Junipero Serra planted the first grapes in the state at the mission he founded in San Diego. Eventually, the Spanish established 21 missions along the coast, and Father Serra brought vines and winemaking skills to all of them. In 1830, a French immigrant from Bordeaux built the first commercial winery in Los Angeles, followed by a German group who farmed on land that is now Disneyland. From these humble beginnings, the wine industry grew with the state’s big booms during and after the Gold Rush, but the temperance movement and a devastating vine disease slowed it down. Then in 1919, Prohibition stopped it in its tracks.
Prohibition ended in 1933, but the wine industry was slow to recover. After the Korean war, it began to expand and finally reached acceptance around the world in 1976 when both red and white California wines beat out the French and all others during a prestigious competition in Paris. California has since become a world leader in wine.
While it began as a California event, Wine Month is spreading to other grape-growing regions around the country. Texas grape growers hold a huge annual festival – actually, in typical Texas fashion, organizers believe it’s the biggest grape festival in the world. Known as Grapefest, it’s a harvesting and wine festival that features grape stomping, wine tasting, live music, and a wine competition.
In California, wineries from Napa to San Diego are celebrating the harvest with special wine tours, tastings, concerts, and more. There are more than 100 events going on, all to celebrate a California agricultural product that is enjoyed around the world. To find an event near you, visit CaliforniaWines.com.
About the Author
Len Wilcox is a retired scientist who also ran a newspaper and has written for agricultural publications since the 1980s. He was a regular contributor to California Farmer Magazine. His commentary “The Western View” is a regular feature on Farm City Newsday and AgNet West.