Happy Throwback Thursday, darlings! This little-known snippet of Los Angeles history is for all of you California wine lovers out there. I first posted this piece three years ago, and I was beyond thrilled to get a comment from a relative of Jean-Louis Vignes, as well as from a gent who had just finished a book about L.A.’s place in the history of California’s wine industry. Speaking of throwbacks, raise a glass and join me in an off-key rendition of “I Love L.A.” (with apologies to Randy Newman).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!