California Wine Country Began in Los Angeles

Corkbar I Ed Fuentes For wine connoisseurs, September is a special month in California. It is time to harvest, and what is now proclaimed California Wine Month has the state's wine regions active with promotions.

Or in the case of wine bars, like Downtown Los Angeles' Corkbar, California Wine Month is taken very seriously. The South Park wine cafe is rotating a presentation of California wines each week.

Many of those vintages come from Northern California, where the climate and ecosystem, and more recently tourism, have favored the modern vintner. But those sipping on whites and reds may not know California's commercial wine industry has roots a mile away, in groves that once ran alongside the Los Angeles River.

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Under Father Junipero Serra, small vineyards produced sacramental wines for the California Missions, beginning with Mexican vines cultivated at Mission San Diego de Alcala in 1769.

In 1771, when San Gabriel Mission was founded, vine cuttings were planted and the mission became the first California winery, one of worlds largest until the 1800s.

Viticulture moved north with the padres and reached Napa with the opening of Sonoma Mission in 1823.

By 1824, as Joseph Chapman is credited with the first commercial winery located near the San Gabriel Mission. William Wolfskill had also planted commercial vineyards on his vast Los Angeles ranch, land that now includes the Downtown Arts District. (By 1843, Wolfskill's ranches in Yola and Solona counties were also growing commercial vineyards).

All growers used the hearty stock of missionaries, known as Mission grapes.

Enter Jean Louis Vignes, aka Don Luis del Aliso, the vintner who sought to improve his crop by importing French vines to Los Angeles in 1833. The Frenchman from Bordeaux produced a grape, and by using techniques such as aging vines, produced a wine superior to the padres.

Soon, more growers began experimenting with European grapes and by 1869, the industry flourished in Los Angeles.

Currently, California makes 90% of all U.S. wine and is the world's fourth leading wine producer after France, Italy and Spain, according to the California-based Wine Institute.

Just for that, Downtown Los Angeles deserves a clink of that glass filled with your preferred vintage.

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About the Author

Ed Fuentes is an arts journalist, photographer, graphic designer, and digital muralist who covers a variety of topics and geographies in Southern California for KCET.
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