California Wines

bottleshockIf you were born after the 1970’s you might not know that there was a time when the world looked down their nose at California wines. (French wines were once unpopular too, but that is a story for another time.) While writing my book, Historic Cocktails, I had the chance to include some California wine history.

Some of the recipes in Historic Cocktails call for “California wine” without any further specification. In pre-Prohibition days, the California wine industry was quite young and only mixed red or mixed white were generally available. Vineyards weren’t even planted in California until the late 1700’s when missionaries brought a few varieties from Spain. It was not until the mid 1800’s that vineyards were planted in Northern California, largely in response to the demand associated with the large population influx of the Gold Rush.

When prohibition arrived, California wineries were still struggling to establish themselves. Many wineries did not survive the 1920 Volstead National Prohibition Act. Between 1919 and 1925, production dropped 94%.

After the repeal of the Volstead Act, several California vintners got to work to restore the industry. There were several industry changing notables along the way, such as André Tchelistcheff of Beaulieu Vineyards, The Christian Brothers, Robert Mondavi and journalist Frank Schoonmaker. However, it wasn’t until 1976 that California wines obtained any appreciation. At a blind tasting in Paris three of the top four ranked Chardonnays were Californian and the top red was from California’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. 

The competition, known as the “Judgement of Paris”, was the basis for the 2008 film “Bottle Shock“. While this excellent film does take some creative license, the basic story is true and captures the passion that Gustavo Brambila, the vintner, has for the art of making excellent wines. His winery, Chateau Montelena,  defeated the French Chardonnays and was ranked first.  The movie is quite enjoyable, even more so if you appreciate the history of wines and liqueurs. 

So this is just a sneak peak at the interesting information I have throughout the upcoming book Historic Cocktails. Subscribe to this site or follow me on Facebook and  Twitter as I update the book’s progress. Meanwhile – happy tasting!

You grow grass for the cattle; and for people you grow the plants they need to bring forth bread from the earth, wine that gladdens the human heart, oil to make faces glow, and food to sustain their strength.

Psalm 104:14-15

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