IT has been reserved for California, from the plenitude of her capacities, to give to us a truly great boou in her light and delicate wines.
Our Pacific sister, from whose generous hand has flowed an uninterrupted stream of golden gifts, has announced the fact that henceforth we are to be a wine-growing people. From the sparkling juices of her luscious grapes, rich with the breath of au unrivalled climate, is to come in future the drink of our people. By means of her capacity in this respect we are to convert the vast tracts of her yet untilled soil into blooming vineyards, which will give employment to thousands of men and women,
— we are to make wine as common an article of consumption in America as upon the Rhine, and to break one more of the links which bind us unwilling slaves to foreign lands.
It is a little singular, that, in a country so particularly adapted to the culture of the grape, no species is indigenous to the soil. The earliest record of the grape in California is about 17 70, at which time the Spanish Jesuits brought to Los Angeles what are supposed to have been cuttings from the Malaga. There is a difference of opinion as to what stock they originally came from ; but one thing is certain,
— from that stock has sprung what is now known all over the State as the “ Mission ” or “ Los Angeles ” grape, and from which is made all the wine at present in the market. The berry is round, reddish-brown while ripening, turning nearly black when fully ripe. It is very juicy and sweet, and a delicious tablegrape.
Three prominent reasons maybe given in support of the claims of California to be considered a wine - producing State. First, her soil possesses a large amount of magnesia and lime, or chalk. Specimens of it, taken from various localities, and carried to Europe, when chemically tested and submitted to the judgment of competent men, have been pronounced to be admirably adapted to the purposes of wine - culture. Then, the climate is all that could possibly be desired,—as during the growth and ripening of the grapes they are never exposed to storms of rain or hail, which often destroy the entire crop in many parts of Europe. As an evidence of the great superiority enjoyed by California in this respect, it may be remarked, that, while the grape - crop here is a certainty, “ the oldest inhabitant ” not remembering a year that has failed of a good yield, — in Europe, on the contrary, in a period of 432 years, from 1420 to 1852, the statistics exhibit only 11 years which can he pronounced eminently good, and but 28 very good, — 192 being simply what may be called “pretty good” and “middling,” and 201, or nearly one - half, having proved total failures, not paying the expenses. Again, the enormous productiveness of the soil is an immense advantage. We make on an average from five hundred and fifty to six hundred and fifty gallons of wine to the acre. The four most productive of the wine-growing districts of Europe are —
Italy, giving to the acre 441 1-2 gallons
Austria and her provinces, 265 5-6 “
France, 176 2-7 “
Nassau, 237 1-2 “
Of these, it will be perceived, that Italy, the most prolific, falls fully one hundred and fifty gallons short of the average yield per acre in California.—In this connection the following account of a grape-vine in Santa Barbara may be interesting: — “ Four miles south of the town there is a vine which was planted more than a quarter of a century since, and has a stalk now about ten inches thick. The branches are supported by a train or arbor, and extend out about fifty feet on all sides. The annual crop of grapes upon this one vine is from six to ten thousand pounds, as much as the yield of half an acre of common vines. It is of the Los Angeles variety. There is a similar vine, but not so large, in the vineyard of Andres Pico, at San Fernando.”
It is well known that California has within her borders five million acres of land suitable for vine - culture. Suppose it to average no larger yield than that of Italy, yet, at 25 cents a gallon, it would give an income of $551,875,000. That this may not seem an entirely chimerical estimate, it may be remarked that trustworthy statistics show that in France five millions of acres are planted in vines, producing seven hundred and fifty millions of gallons, while Hungary has three millions of acres, yielding three hundred and sixty millions of gallons. If it is asked, Supposing California capable of producing the amount claimed for her, what could be done with this enormous quantity of wine? the answer may be found in the experience of France, where, notwithstanding the immense native production, there is a large importation from foreign countries, besides a very considerable consumption of purely artificial wines.
Small quantities of wine have been made in California for over half a century, by the Spanish residents, not, however, as a commercial commodity, but for homeconsumption, and there are wines now in the cellar’s of some of the wealthy Spanish families which money could not purchase. But it remained for American enterprise, aided by European experience, to develop the wonderful capacity which had so long slumbered in the bosom of this most favored land.
The following statistics exhibit the total number of vines in 1862, and the great increase in the last five or six years will show the opinion entertained as to the success of the business.
“ The number of grape-vines set out in vineyards in the State, according to the Report of the County Assessors, as compiled in the Surveyor-General’s Report for 1862, is 10,592,688, of which number Los Angeles has 2,570,000, and Sonoma 1,701,661,
“ The rate of increase in the number and size of vineyards is large. All the vines of the State did not number 1,000,000 seven years ago. Los Angeles, which had three times as many vines surviving from the time of the Mexican domain as all the other counties together, had 592,000 bearing vines and 134,000 young vines in 1856. The annual increase in the State has been about 1,500,000 since then; and though less hereafter, it will still be large.
“The wine made in 1861 is reported, very incorrectly, by the County Assessors, as amounting to 343,000 gallons. The amount made in 1862 was about 700,000 gallons. The total amount made in all other States of the Union in 1859, according to the United States census, was 1,350,000 gallons; and the same authority puts down California’s wineyield for that year at 494,000 gallons, which is very nearly correct. In Los Angeles County most of the vineyards have 1,000 vines to the acre. In Sonoma the number varies from 680 to 1,000. The average number may be estimated at 900 ; and the 10,000,000 vines of the State cover about 11,500 acres. An acre of California vineyard in full bearing produces at least 500 gallons annually, and at that rate the produce of the 11,500 acres would be 5,750,000 gallons. Strike off, however, one-third for grapes lost, wasted, and gathered for the table, and we have an annual produce of 3,800,000 gallons. The reason why the present product is so far below this amount is that most of the vines are still very young, and will not be in full bearing for several years yet.”
The cost of planting a vineyard will of course vary with the situation, price of labor, quality of soil, etc., but may be estimated at not far from fifty dollars an acre. This includes everything except the cost of the land, and brings the vines up to the third year, when they are in fair bearing condition. There are thousands of acres of land scattered over the State, admirably adapted to vine-culture, which may be purchased at from one to two dollars per aere. No enterpriseholds out more encouragement for the investment of labor and capital than this, and the attention of some of the most intelligent capitalists of the country is being given to it. In this connection I cannot forbear referring to the action of the Government in regard to our native wines. By the National Excise Law of 1862 a tax of five cents a gallon was laid upon all wine made in the country. No tax has yet been laid upon agricultural productions generally, and only three per cent, upon manufactures. Now wine certainly falls properly under the head of agricultural productions. Upon this ground it might justly claim exemption from taxation. The wine-growers of California allege that the tax is oppressive and impolitic: oppressive, because it is equal to one-fourth of the original value of the wine, and because no other article of production or manufacture is taxed in anything like this proportion ; impolitic, because the business is now in its infancy, struggling against enormous difficulties, among which may be mentioned the high price of labor, rate of interest, and cost of packages, making it difficult to compete with the wines of Europe, which have already established themselves in the country, and which are produced where interest is only three per cent, per annum, and the price of labor one-quarter of what it is in California. In addition to this there is the prejudice which exists against American wines, but which, happily, is passing away. The vintners ask only to be put upon the same footing as manufacturers, namely, an ad valorem tax of three per cent.; and they say that the Government will derive a greater revenue from such a tax than from the one now in force, as they cannot pay the present tax, and, unless it is abated, they will be obliged to abandon the business. Efforts are being made to induce Congress to modify it, and it is to be hoped they will be successful.
In 1861 California sent a commissioner to Europe, to procure the best varieties of vines cultivated there, and also to report upon the European culture generally. The gentleman selected for the mission was Colonel Harasztlhy, to whom I am indebted for many of my statistics, and who has given us a very interesting book on the subject. He brought back a hundred thousand vines, embracing about fourteen hundred varieties. These were to have been planted and experimented upon under the auspices of the State. What the result has been I am unable to say ; but we are informed upon good authority that over two hundred foreign varieties are now successfully cultivated. Such being the fact, it is a fair presumption that we are soon to make wines in sufficient variety to suit all tastes.
Los Angeles is at present the largest wine-growing county in the State, and Sonoma the second. Many other portions of the State, however, are fast becoming planted with vineyards, and some of them are already giving promise of furnishing superb wines. As usual in wine-growing countries, in the southern part of the State the wines are richer in saccharine properties, and heavier-bodied, than those of the more northern sections, but are deficient in flavor and bouquet. We shall get a lighter and tarter wine from the Sonoma and other northern vineyards, which will please many tastes better than the southern wines. The two largest vineyards in the State are owned by Colonel Haraszthy, of Sonoma, and John Rains, of San Gabriel. The former has two hundred and ninety thousand vines, and the latter one hundred and sixty-five thousand. It is probable that from one of these vineyards at least will come a good Champagne wine.
A large tract of land, to which has been given the name of “ Anaheim,” has been recently purchased by a German company. It is sold to actual settlers in lots of twenty acres, affording room for twenty thousand vines. There are now planted nearly three hundred thousand, which are in a very flourishing condition. The wines from this district will soon be in the market.
The wines now made in California are known under the following names: “ White ” or “ Hock” Wine, “ Angelica,” “ Port,” “ Muscatel,” “ Sparkling California,” and “ Piquet.” The character of the first-named wine is much like that of the Rhine wines of Germany. It is not unlike the Capri bianco of Naples, or the white wines of the South of France. It is richer and fuller-bodied than the German wines, without the tartness which is strongly developed in nearly all the Rhenish varieties. It is a fine wane, and meets the approval of many of our best connoisseurs. Specimens of it have been sent to some of the wine - districts of Germany, and the most flattering expressions in its favor have come from the Rhine. The “ Angelica” and “Muscatel” are both naturally sweet, intended as dessert-wines, and to suit the taste of those who do not like a dry wine. They are both of a most excellent quality, and are very popular. The “ Port” is a rich, deep-colored, high-flavored wine, not unlike the Burgundies of France, yet not so dry. The “ Sparkling California ” and “ Piquet” are as yet but little known. The latter is made from the lees of the grape, is a sour, very light wine, and not suitable for shipment. Messrs. Sainsivain Brothers have up to the present time been the principal house engaged in the manufacture of Champagne. So far, they have not been particularly successful. This wine has a certain bitter taste, which is not agreeable; yet it is a much better wine than some kinds of the foreign article sold in our markets. The makers are still experimenting, and will, no doubt, improve. It is probable that most of the good sparkling wine which we shall get from California will be made in the northern part of the State ; the grapes grown there seem to be better adapted to the purpose than those raised in Los Angeles. There is no doubt, too, that the foreign grape will be used for this branch of the business, rather than the Los Angeles variety. All that is required to obtain many other varieties of wine, including brands similar to Sherry and Claret, is time to find a proper grape, and to select a suitable soil for its culture. Considering the short time which has elapsed since the business was commenced, wonders have been accomplished. It has taken Ohio thirty years to furnish us two varieties of wine, while in less than one-third that time California has produced six varieties, four of which are of a very superior quality, and have already taken a prominent position in the estimation of the best tastes in the country.
In 1854, Messrs. Köhler and Fröhling commenced business in Los Angeles, and shortly after opened a house in San Francisco. They were assisted by Charles Stern, who had enjoyed a long and valuable experience in the wine-business upon the Rhine. The vintage was very small and inferior in quality, as they had had no experience in making wine from such a grape as California produced. Numberless difficulties were met with, and it was only the indomitable energy of the gentlemen engaged in the enterprise, sustained by a firm faith in its ultimate success, which brought them triumphantly out of the slough of despond that seemed at times almost to overwhelm them. They have to-day the satisfaction of being the pioneers in what is soon to be one of the most important branches of industry in California. They own one of the finest vineyards in the State, from which some magnificent wine has been produced. They have contracts with owners of other vineyards; and after making the wine in their own, the men and machinery are moved into these, the grapes pressed, and the juice at once conveyed to their cellars, they paying the producers of the grapes a stipulated price per ton on the vines. The vintage commences about the first of October, and generally continues into November. The labor employed in gathering the grapes and in the work of the press is mostly performed by Indians. It is a novel and interesting sight to see them filing up to the press, each one bearing on his head about fifty pounds of the delicious fruit, which is soon to be reduced to an unseemly mass, and yield up its purple life-blood for the benefit of man. Some of the best wine made in the State is from the “ Asuza” and “ Sunny Slope” vineyards, both of which lie directly at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. From a small beginning Messrs. Köhler and Fröfilling have steadily progressed, till at this time their position is a very enviable one. Their cellars, occupying the basement of Montgomery Block, excite the admiration of all who visit them, and their wines are more favorably known than those of any other vintners. Agencies have been established in New York and other cities, under the supervision of Mr. Stern, and the favor with which they have been received has settled the fact that the wines of California are a success. It only remains for the vintners to keep their wines pure, and always up to the highest standard, and to take such measures as shall insure their delivery in a like condition to the consumers, to build up a business which shall eclipse that of any of the great houses of Europe. Thus will the State and nation be benefited, by keeping at home the money which we annually pay for wine to foreign countries, and the people will be led away from the use of strong, fiery drinks, to accept instead the light wines of their native land.