California Wine Industry

California is a Wine Lover’s Paradise!

A California wine tour is a must for wine lovers around the world. Visitors from every corner of the globe come to soak up the sun on California’s legendary beaches, play in amusement parks, revel in the excitement of Hollywood, experience the outdoors in national parks and participate in every sport from skiing to skydiving, but for those who are passionate about wine, the California vacation experience is without comparison.

History of California Wine

Wine’s story in California begins with the Spanish missions, the first of which was located in San Diego in 1769. Franciscan missions were established throughout California and remained in operation until 1834 growing Criolla (Mission) grapes that were made into low-quality wine and brandy. Although a French immigrant was the first to plant European grape varieties in Los Angeles in the 1830’s, it was not until 1857 when Hungarian-born Count Agoston Haraszthy established Buena Vista Winery near the town of Sonoma that California’s modern wine history really began.

Over the next few decades the wine industry in California grew quickly and U.S. made wines were exported to many other countries, but the industry came to a screeching halt with the passage of Prohibition in 1919. Some wineries made it through these lean years by making small amounts of wine for religious or medicinal purposes. After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the few wines being made were of low quality and alcohol consumption in general was still frowned upon. Wine simply wasn’t part of American’s daily lives.

Slowly but surely, quality improved and U.S. winemakers began making significant changes like labeling wines by varietal rather than borrowing European place names. Modern wine legend Robert Mondavi was one of these mavericks. In 1965 he left his family’s winery, Charles Krug in Napa Valley, and set up his own operation. By the late 1970’s California wines were winning international competitions and surprising critics around the world with their superb quality.

Today, California is the dominant wine producer in the United States and the fourth largest producer in the world. Over 90% of all wines made in the U.S. come from California.

California Wine Production

California has more than 107 AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) and produces an astonishing variety of red and white wines. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are the most widely planted varietals. More than 2,600 wineries are bonded in the state, up over 200% from 1990. In 2007, over 192 million cases of California wine were sold. Land planted to grapes now tops 527,000 acres.

Visits to wineries and vineyards are now the second most popular tourist activity in California after Disneyland. Wine tourism generates an estimated $2 billion dollars each year and continues to grow. When it comes to wine, California has truly emerged as a global leader.

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