How California Became A World Wine Capital

These days, California and wine are practically synonymous. It can be tempting to assume it’s always been this way. However, there was a specific course of events that led to California’s connection to wine.

So who had the great idea to plant some grapes in California and stomp them into international recognition? Let’s explore the great story of how California became a world wine capital:

Planting the Seeds

Credit: Eloi_Omella/ iStock

The first wine grapes were brought to California by the Spanish in the 18th century. These vines were planted in vineyards next to the many missions that were established in California.

From the very beginning, wine was part of religious ceremonies as well as everyday life enjoyment.

Golden Years

Credit: Jaime Casap/ Unsplash

In the mid-1800s, the California Gold Rush brought a huge population surge to California. Perhaps not a surprise, the long days spent gold-hunting went hand in hand with an increased demand for wine. The wine industry began to develop even further in Northern California, particularly in the Sonoma and Napa regions.

The first winery in California, Buena Vista Winery, was established in 1857 in Sonoma. A wave of additional wineries followed, some of which are still in operation today.

Unfortunately, an epidemic of phylloxera (sort of like aphids) caused the wine industry to slow down. However, it did rebound, and new grape varieties were added.

How Dry I Am…

Credit: Everett Historical/ Shutterstock

By 1919, California was well on its way to becoming a major wine region. Then, Prohibition struck.

When Prohibition was passed, it seemed like the wine industry was going to go extinct in California. Vineyards were torn up. Cellars were destroyed. Some wineries switched to alcohol-free grape juice, and others were permitted to stay in business to make sacramental wine, which was an exception to the Prohibition rule.

With this limited production, wineries once again dwindled. By the time Prohibition was repealed in 1933, just a few wineries remained in operation.  The recovery was slow, but it did happen.

On Top Again

Credit: Kelsey Knight/ Unsplash

It took some time, but California’s wine production began to rebound. But the progress wasn’t speedy. By the 1960s, California was known for its sweet, port-style wines, but it was not considered a major player in the wine world.

But then, a sort of renaissance occurred. Robert Mondavi, David Bruce Winery, and others began to pursue winemaking in earnest, and the quality of the product improved and began to gain attention again.

In 1976, the turnaround was evident when a big wine tasting event in Paris included some California wines. In this event, now known as The Judgment of Paris, California wines were chosen in both the red and white categories, beating out wines from the best-known winemaking regions of France. Suddenly, the world took note of California’s wine offerings.

A Worldwide Sensation

Credit: Adele Payman/ Unsplash

Since that time, the California wine industry has continued to grow, with sales increasing over the years. There have been some ups and downs, but California’s place in the worldwide wine circuit is quite established.

These days, there are over 3,600 wineries in California. The region has also been featured in all sorts of movies, documentaries, and shows, ranging from the movie The Trip to the more recent comedy featuring Saturday Night Live alums, Wine Country.

Wine Is Divine

Credit: igorr1/ iStock

If you’re looking to sample some world-class wine, you must visit California’s wine country. Featuring a multitude of wine varieties, creative wine makers, and plenty of beautiful vineyards, it’s a famed region that is well worth the trip!

Share this article:

More from the Blog

Related article image

The 5 Newest States (Besides Alaska and Hawaii)

Related article image

What (and Where) Is Death Valley?

Related article image

Most Bizarre Town Names in the U.S.