Tag Archives: wine history

#tbt Los Angeles and the history of California #wine

17 Sep

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.

VINES

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.

LA's first vineyards were planted a stone's throw from Union Station.

LA’s first vineyards were planted a stone’s throw from 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.

BARRELS 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.

A toast 24 floors above L.A.'s 110 Freeway, two miles south of where Vignes planted his first vines.

A toast 24 floors above L.A.’s 110 Freeway, two miles south of where Vignes planted his first vines.

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!

Happy National Repeal Day! #drinkvino

5 Dec

Darlings, if you need a reason to raise a glass tonight, December 5 is National Repeal Day. On this day in 1933, the ban on alcohol in the United States, known as Prohibition, was lifted, or repealed. Yay!

Prohib_Newspaper

If you missed historian Ken Burns’s successful documentary series on Prohibition a couple of years ago, here’s a little bit of background. Back in the early 1900s, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union decided that alcohol was the source of all evils in the U.S. The well-intentioned ladies rallied, and the U.S. government passed the 18th Amendment in 1919, making it illegal to drink–and produce–alcohol. Boo!

Prohibition lasted 13 years, and–shocker!–it didn’t work (see “moonshine” and “Al Capone”).  So you can imagine how deliriously happy folks were on 12/5/33 when the 21st Amendment was passed, making it legal to not only drink alcohol, but make it.

Prohib_Crowd

For my newer readers, I want to be clear that I am not in any way advocating alcohol abuse. Prohibition and Repeal Day were significant moments in U.S. history and for the alcoholic beverage industry. On a personal level, I consider winemaking an art, and I also believe that drinking wine responsibly enhances a meal and life in general.

Prohib_ladies

Having said that, I think Repeal Day is an important reminder that government intervention doesn’t always work, especially when it imposes on our freedom to enjoy a glass of wine responsibly. We are all fortunate, however, to live in a nation that can not only acknowledge misguided legislation but actually do something about it. Yeah, I know, it doesn’t happen as often as we’d like, but there’s hope.

Prohib_ladies2

So tonight, gather your friends, pour the vino, and count your many blessings as you raise a toast to National Repeal Day.

¡Salud!

#CesarChavez and the fruit of the vine

27 Mar

Chicos y chicas, Monday is Cesar Chavez Day, and in honor of his birthday on March 31, I’m re-blogging a post about the United Farm Workers, the labor union he founded. By the way, you can catch the new Cesar Chavez movie, in theaters this weekend! And no, I’m not getting paid to promote the film (de nada, Pantelion Films). Here’s the trailer: 

 

…and here’s the blog post!

In one of my favorite scenes from the movie “Sideways,” Virginia Madsen’s character waxes rhapsodic about wine. Among the many things wine evokes for her are thoughts of the people who picked the grapes.

Image courtesy of Work Permit via Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy of Work Permit via Wikimedia Commons

 

United Farm Workers (UFW), the labor union founded by Cesar Chavez in 1962, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012.

It would be disingenuous of me not to mention that the topic of labor unions is a touchy issue for some gente. Regardless of where you stand, we’re all rooted in the same vast vineyard of humanity, and this post is presented in the spirit of learning about one chapter in the history of a movement that has had an impact on the wine industry.

One historical point that many wine lovers may not be aware of is that Cesar Chavez himself was a fan of red wine. Perhaps even less known is that the UFW made its own wine six years ago to commemorate what would have been their founder’s 81st birthday. Black Eagle Wines takes its name from the stylized bird on the UFW’s logo.

Image courtesy of UFW.

Image courtesy of UFW.

Although the wine is no longer available for purchase, the union has a limited reserve that it continues to pour at its banquets and special events. A Sauvignon Blanc, a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon were released under the label. At the time the wines hit the market, a spokesperson for the UFW noted that their target customers were young Latino professionals whose parents may have been farm workers.

Today, Cesar Chavez is credited by some not only for establishing better working conditions for farm laborers, but for starting a movement that would inspire hundreds of thousands of workers across various industries in the U.S. to seek better lives for themselves and their families.

So the next time you raise a toast, take a moment to think of everyone who played a role in producing the elixir in your glass, a liquid masterpiece that has been enjoyed for thousands of years by billions of people, our predecessors in the great vineyard of life. ¡Salud!

Los Angeles: Birthplace of California’s wine industry

4 Sep

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!

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