The story of the Southern California grape–in a glass, that is!

I haven’t yet closed the door on my interest in the families closely associated with the founding of Los Angeles.

In March I will be part of a docent-led tour of a new exhibit at the Huntington Library highlighting the Wilson, Shorb and Patton families from 1854 to 1904. That era is precisely where I’m most interested, so won’t I have fun!

And as much as I enjoy talking about this interest…

Entrance to Grapevine Park

I’m aware that much of what most directly intrigues me probably doesn’t translate too well without the benefit of knowing certain landmarks combined with the familiarity of place names.

But I’m hoping that following the trail of the California grape may be interesting to you.

Viticulture is booming business!

The California wine industry contributes $61.5 billion in state economic impact and $121.8 billion nationally. If you don’t enjoy a glass of wine, you might at least be impressed with those numbers.

So how did the vineyards get their start?

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It all began when Father Junipero Serra brought vines from Mexico to Mission San Diego. As the padres traveled north they established a winery, the largest in the entire system, at Mission San Gabriel Arcángel.

Grapes from the Old Mother grapevine, planted 1861
Grapes from the Old Mother grapevine, planted 1861

Even after the mission era came to a close in 1833 the San Gabriel Valley continued to boast first-rate vineyards and winemaking.

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And then the story jumps forward a couple of decades and we’re back once again on the trail of General George S. Patton’s family.

James DeBarth Shorb, a shrewd and capable businessman,  partnered with his father-in-law, Benjamin Davis Wilson. You may remember that Wilson was the General’s illustrious grandfather. At one time Shorb and Davis owned approximately 1800 acres of land with over 230,000 grapevines in addition to acres of citrus, olive and walnut trees.

The Old Mother Grapevine, root, 1861
The Old Mother Grapevine root, 1861

Following Wilson’s death, Shorb expanded the original “B.D. Wilson & Co.” to include a new and larger winery, The San Gabriel Wine Company.  The business was  capable of crushing 250 tons of grapes a day, and with the capacity of 1,500,000 gallons of wine the company owned a one-and-a-half mile stretch of Southern Pacific Railway for shipping purposes.

The company called itself the largest winery in the world.

In the mid-19th century there were hundreds of wineries in the region and for a time, Southern California wine production was thought to rival European enterprises.

But then along came a little insect!

An insect-transmitted bacteria caused a blight that created enough havoc to scare investors and before long orange and walnut production took the place of grapes.

Following the blight, Short struggled along until 1892, then closed the San Gabriel Wine Company shortly before he died.

The Sierra Madre Vintage Company in Lamanda Park, a town later annexed to Pasadena, was one of the few wineries to survive throughout the Prohibition Era, hiding behind loopholes allowing wine for religious sacraments.

But by the 1930s, winemaking in the San Gabriel Valley was over!

Fortunately for the state of California, the mission Padres had taken grapes to Northern California and those vines didn’t seem to have the same infestation problem.

Today, of course, Central Coast and Northern California wines are among the world’s best.  But did you know that Southern California also has a significant wine presence?

San Diego County, with its many grape-growing microclimates, provides the perfect conditions for growing unique varietals across the region. There are 50 wineries across the county with additional vineyard development always underway.

Father Junipero Serra, statute in front of San Gabriel Mission
Father Junipero Serra, statue in front of San Gabriel Mission

It seems to me this is a fitting conclusion for my story of the Southern California grape.

I started by telling you that Father Junipero Serra brought the first grapes to the region by way of Mexico, establishing a modest wine production at Mission San Diego. That was 1769.

And today,  wine production in San Diego County is robust and award winning.

I’m always satisfied when a story can be brought full circle!

There I was, minding my own business…listening to a little Christmas music…

If you missed my previous post about the outrageous desecration of ancient California Native American petroglyphs you might want to catch up here.  I assure you I have no intention of continuing with themes related to negativity and odious behaviors, but based on a morning encounter with a billboard, I just couldn’t resist sharing what occurred this morning–a final emphasis on how much work goes into maintaining balance, while cultivating positivity!

It’s kind of tricky business to put yourself out there as a positive outlook blog–breathelighter’s primary focus is towards encouraging general well-being and the ways that I maintain balance, then this week I switched gears quickly and talked about being outraged.  My natural set-point is balanced more heavily towards optimism, but sometimes I lose that perspective, despite my best efforts. Occasionally I realize that although I don’t very often lean into depression, if I’m not careful, I can swallow a heavy dose of cynicism.

It’s not my best trait. But when I don’t actively affirm more positive attributes in others I fall into a well-nursed  negative and complaining tone.

I  know to take responsibility for how I feed my emotions. It’s my problem if I listen to others complain, or digest non-stop media messages designed to elicit a negative emotional response. It’s certainly my own fault if I choose to be addicted to the daily news…most of it is rubbish.

When I realize I’m tumbling into the abyss of gloom, I usually know what works to lift me out.

So that’s what I was doing this morning.  On the way to work I chose to keep the radio off, and as I was cheerfully listening to a favorite Christmas CD I pulled up to the first large intersection and quickly glanced to my right. Whoa! My head did one of those whiplash hard snaps! Where just yesterday a billboard promoting a local health food store stood mighty and tall right next to a “Christmas at Disneyland” advertisement, this is what I read.

Well, that will wake you up!  It wasn’t even 7:00 a.m. yet!  Even Christmas music can’t quite calm that jolt!

The San Gabriel Valley has the largest concentration of Chinese Americans in the entire United States. You can see the message is printed in English and Chinese. I won’t comment on the board’s content except to say that I feel ignorant of the issue. The billboard did its job in raising some level of awareness and I’ll fact check as soon as I’m able.

Sobering.

So where do I go from here?

I have an activist nature…I don’t ignore problems very well (not that I don’t sometimes try…)

I wonder if young people know of Helen Keller?  She inspires me.  As a deafblind social activist–did you know she helped found the ACLU? –she lived her own words:  “Although the world is full of suffering it is full also of the overcoming of it.”

She doesn’t sound cynical, does she?

There are so many people doing really GOOD things to the benefit others.

I have been hearing some wonderful stories of examples of hardworking, committed people not necessarily actively seeking global change, but  finding creative ways that make a difference right on their doorstep.

So that’s my focus for the rest of this week.

My next post will share a couple of stories highlighting people/places or things that inspire me. Maybe you’ll also enjoy the benefit of a little shift in focus.

I hope you’ll come back and be buoyed along with me.

And the music I was listening to on the way to work? Music always elevates my mood.

I’ve added a page at the top of the blog banner where I’ve listed some of my favorite holiday tunes. It’s just for fun. Maybe you can leave a comment there and let me know what you are listening to this holiday season.

I suggest we all turn down the noise! If you’re more disciplined than I am, try turning it completely off!