Los Angeles: Birthplace of California’s wine industry

For better or for worse, Los Angeles has spawned the Barbie doll, the film industry, the Cobb Salad, and yours truly. As L.A. celebrates its 231st birthday today, it’s worth noting that Los Angeles, not Napa or Sonoma, gave birth to the California wine industry.

Vignes, glorious vignes!

Angelenos who have taken high school French will know that ‘vignes’ is the French word for vines. As Señorita Vino recently learned, Jean-Louis Vignes was the aptly named French immigrant who planted European grape varieties a stone’s throw from downtown Los Angeles in 1831. He called his vineyard El Aliso, and present-day Aliso and Vignes streets are named for Vignes’ contribution to Los Angeles history.

California’s first commercial vineyard was planted in 1831, near L.A.’s Union Station.

While Vignes was the first in California to plant a commercial vineyard, the Spanish missionaries were the first to grow grapes in California. Father Junipero Serra is credited by some sources as having planted the first vineyard in California at Mission San Diego de Alcalá around 1770. These grapes  were of the Mission variety and used to make sacramental wine.

Not satisfied with the quality of wine made from Mission grapes, Vignes, a native of Bordeaux, France, imported two of his native region’s more prominent grape varieties, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. A barrel maker by trade, Vignes aged his wines in barrels made from trees grown in L.A.’s San Bernardino Mountains.

Today, wine can be aged in oak barrels or stainless steel tanks. Each method has a different effect on the aroma and flavor of the wine.

By 1849, the Gold Rush had caused a population boom in Northern California, and the Napa and Sonoma Valleys became the hub of California winemaking. Which brings us (at warp speed) to today.

Enjoying a glass of wine 24 floors above LA’s 110 Freeway, about a mile south of where Vignes planted his vineyard.

Join me in raising a glass to celebrate 231 years since the founding of the City of Angels, birthplace of the tortilla chip, the French Dip, and California’s wine industry. ¡Salud!

24 thoughts on “Los Angeles: Birthplace of California’s wine industry

  1. Senorita Vino, thanks so much for sharing some LA history as it relates to the growth of the wine industry! Who knew?

  2. I had no idea about LA’s winemaking history, thanks so much for sharing it. Saludos!

  3. Happy Birthday my beautiful LA!!! Thanks for sharing such a wonderful information!

  4. One more thing to add to my list on why I love LA!

  5. hey pam, sorry i couldn’t make it over this past weekend, but bridget sure had a nice time, so thank you.  in response to yr recent posting, i recommend you to one of my favorite local books, harris newmark’s sixty years in southern california, published during the 1920s.  he has a number of indexed pages regarding local winemaking.  i quote from the first of these, “jean louis vignes came to los angeles in 1829, and set out the aliso vineyard of 104 acres, which derived its name, as did the street, from a previous and incorrect application of the castillian “aliso,”, meaning alder, to the sycamore tree, a big specimen of which stood on the place.  This tree, possibly a couple of hundred years old, long shaded vignes’ wine cellars, as was finally cut down a few years ago…” probably in the 1910s, “to make room for the philadelphia brew house.  froma spot about fifty feet away from the vignes adobe extended a grape arbor perhaps ten feet in width and fully a quarter of a mile long, thus reaching to the river, and this arbor was associated with many of the early celebrations in los angeles.  the northern boundary of the property was aliso street, its western boundary was alameda, and part of it was surrounded by a high adobe wall, inside of which, during the troubles of the mexican war, don louis enjoyed a far safer seclusion than many others.  on june 7th, 1851, vignes advertised el aliso for sale, but it was not subdivided until much later, when eugene meyer and his associates bought it for this purpose.  vignes street recalls this veteran viticulturalist….in the 1850s, aliso street stopped very abruptly at the sainsevain vineyard, where it narrowed down to one of the willow-bordered, picturesque little lanes so frequently found here, and paralleled the noted grape-arbor as far as the river-bank.  at this point, andrew boyle and other residents of the heights and beyond were wont to cross the stream on their way to and from town…pierre sainsevain, a nephew of vignes, came in 1839 and for a while worked for his uncle.  jean louis sainsevain, another nephew, arrived in los angeles in 1849 or soon after, and on april 14th, 1855, purchased for 42,000 dollars the vineyard, cellars, and other property of his uncle.  This was the same year in which he returned to france for his son michel, and remarried, leaving another son, paul, in school there.  pierre joined his brother and, in 1857, sainsevain brothers made the first california champagne, then shipping their wine to san francisco.  paul, now a resident of san diego, came to los angeles in 1861.  the name endures in sainsevain street.”  cheers.  db

    1. What a treat it is to receive your erudite comment and citations on the history of winemaking in Los Angeles, DB. Your input added much to the information I gleaned from the Oxford Companion to Wine and the World Atlas of Wine. Thanks to you, we now know that Los Angeles also was the birthplace of California’s first sparkling wine! Señorita Vino is sincerely touched–and honored–that you took the time to read this post and join the conversation with such thorough and enlightening information. You get a rousing ¡Salud!

  6. I love this post, it´s a great combination of story and good taste of one of the most beautiful cities in the world 🙂 happy birthday LA!

  7. Feliz Cumple LA That is incredible history that not even I a native knew thanks so much for continuing to share some knowledge especially wine related CHEERS!

  8. Wow! I knew nothing of its history and I am also from there. I love wine, I may celebrate for L.A & wine as well! 🙂

  9. First off, love the name of your blog!! Thanks for the pequeno history lesson on vino in CA 🙂

    1. Thank you, Amanda! And thanks so much for reading. Glad you enjoyed this week’s post. Cheers!

  10. It’s interesting to read that “the Spanish missionaries were the first to grow grapes in California.” Thank you for sharing!

  11. Muy interesante la historia del vino de LA, gracias por compartir!

  12. Happy birthday LA and many many more!

  13. thewashingtonvine September 4, 2012 — 9:24 pm

    Love this history lesson!! So glad I came upon this blog!! Thank you 🙂

    1. Thank you for reading, Washington Vine! Welcome to Señorita Vino – I am delighted to have you. ¡Salud!

  14. HAppy Birthday to my beautiful City of Angels! LA made me too. 🙂 PAmela only you would know all this amazing history. With that being said let me grab a glass… cheers to you, LA, and wine history!

  15. I didn’t even know about this. Thanks for adding in some history for the day! 🙂

  16. I absolutely hate to admit that I’ve never been to wine country! how that’s possible?? I have no idea. With the amount food writing and traveling I do, you’d think I’d done this a long time ago. Perhaps you can host me when I finally make it out there!

  17. Hello! My sister, mother, and I are direct descendants of Jean Louis Vignes (great . . . uncle) and Jean Louis Sainsevain (great . . . grandfather). We very much appreciate you sharing the little known winemaking story of our family with others. We are very proud of our ancestors’ contribution to wine in California. My husband makes his own wine in Nevada City CA, and the name of his vineyard is Aliso in honor of the tree and my family’s winemaking past. Our artist daughter created a stylized version of El Aliso, and it proudly graces our labels. Thank you, and cheers!

    1. Thank you so much for reaching out, Kathleen! What an honor for a descendant of Jean Louis Vignes to be reading Señorita Vino. Please stay in touch; I’d love to know more about the wine your husband is making. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @SenoritaVino and send me a direct message. Cheers and you are most welcome!

    2. I’m so glad to hear that members of the Vignes/Sainsevain families are still here in California and still making wine! I’ve just had a book published (Los Angeles Wine) that goes into all this history; I just wish I had had the time to do more research on these two families. JLVignes and the Sainsevain brothers are just as important as Agoston Haraszthy in the early history of California winemaking. Personally I think JLVignes is the “father” of the California wine business, when Los Angeles was the heart of all this, when the Bay Area had minimal vineyards at best. Up until the 1890s, Los Angeles County alone equaled the grape production of the 6-7 Bay Area counties. It’s a history that needs to be kept in the forefront of social consciousness. Keep up the family traditions.

      1. I appreciate your thoughtful comment, Stuart, and I’m excited to read your book. I agree that Vignes should be considered the father of the California wine industry, and my hats off to you and to Kathleen for keeping this key piece of California wine history alive. ¡Cheers/Salud!

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