The Californian history of viniculture started in San Diego in 1769 when the Franciscan Monk Juníperro Serra needed altar wine for his services. Afterwards, the monks started to plant vines, which the Spanish had already brought to Mexico before. Pater Serra had founded eight missions before he died in 1784, and each of them had its own vineyard. This is why he is also called the father of the Californian wine.
Around 1833, Vignes from France planted European vines in the vineyards around Los Angeles. When in 1849 the Gold Rush started and many Europeans settled in California, viniculture experienced its heyday and expanded from the Sierra Nevade into the cooler north.
In the 1850s and the 1860s, the Hungarian soldier Agoston Haraszthy imported around 300 different European kinds of grapes to California, because he was disappointed by the Californian wine. Due to the climatic advantages, he cultivated his vines in the Sonoma Valley near San Francisco, and an active exchange of vines between America and Europe began. However, the imported seedlings were infested with the Phylloxera louse and destroyed almost all vineyards in Europe. In order to fight the parasite, the Californian plant breeder Thomas Munson grafted the noble vines on resistant ones, which showed success against the Phylloxera louse and is still practised today.
Because of the phylloxera epidemic in Europe, Californian viniculture revived enormously, and wines were exported to almost all parts of the world. But soon the boom ended, as the phylloxera louse started to destroy also cultivation areas in California. A counteragent was found soon, but then alcohol was prohibited by the American government in 1919, and most of the wineries went bankrupt. In 1933, the alcohol prohibition was reversed but most of the wine trade structures were destroyed and only about 100 from approximately 2.500 wineries survived.
In the late 1960s some entrepreneurs settled in the Napa Valley and started the production of quality wines.
In California, an area of about 224,000 hectares is cultivated today. Therewith, California is the fourth biggest wine-growing region of the world after Italy, France and Spain.
Due to the geographic expansion, California is divided into a number of different climatic zones. The region is mainly characterized by the influences of the pacific. Because of very little precipitation, growing wine in the southern regions is only possible by artificial watering. In the interior of the country, however, the climate is continental with hot and dry summers.
The climatic conditions on the west coast are ideal. The pacific brings cool air and a compensation of temperature in hot summers. Rainfalls are rare, and due to the diverse soil conditions various kinds of grapes can thrive.
The most important wine-growing area is the Napa Valley characterized by the Napa River. Here, exclusive wines and particularly varietal red vines are produced. In the area of San Francisco Bay often fogs emerge, which provide somewhat cooler temperatures on hot days. Hereby, the wines develop a complex aroma with a high amount of alcohol.
Predominant red grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel and Pinot Noir. Predominant white grapes are Chardonnay and Colombard.
The wine law in California is simple: There are no quantity restrictions in grape production and the varietal policy is very liberal. A Chardonnay-wine, for instance, has to contain 75% of this kind of grape. Wines with a lower percentage are called Meritage and are usually simple table wines.
The AVA system describes a classification of the wine-growing region according to climatic and geographic features. If a wine contains 85 percent of grapes from a certain AVA, it can carry the name of this region. If it is a varietal wine, a percentage of 75 is sufficient. However, the marking does not appear on the label.