Do you have a favorite wine region? Better keep an eye on it!

Here’s a conversation starter. Will your favorite Cabernet, Chardonnay or Pinot be available in just a few decades? 

According to a study released in March by scientists with Conservation International and the Environmental Defense Fund the concern is that by 2050 many areas now hospitable to wine production will shrink by more than 70 per cent.

The decline is due primarily to climate change; noticeably Mediterranean climates around the world. This is not happy news in California, but also sweeps across the wine regions of  Mediterranean Europe, the Cape in South Africa and Mediterranean Chile and Australia.

1880 View of Lake Vineyard, now Huntington Library
1880 View of Lake Vineyard, now Huntington Library

Viticulturists have encountered changing climate and conditions, pest adaptations and environmental circumstances requiring new technologies from the earliest winemaking efforts.

If you’ve been following my interest in the California Mission Era you may recall the story of the old San Gabriel Mission grapevine. And do you recall George S. Patton Jr.’s family association with the San Gabriel Wine Company? 

Georgie Patton with family wine grapes.
Georgie Patton with family wine grapes.

A recent Huntington Library exhibit featured artifacts from the Patton-Wilson-Shorb families, including wine bottles and documents from the Southern California family wine company. The original grapevines were once grown on the family property, Lake Vineyard, which was later sold to Henry Huntington to settle Shorb’s bad debts.

Have you yet grown tired of hearing how much we enjoyed our trip to Morro Bay last month? I hope not, because my enthusiasm has already sparked plans for future visits.

Rotta Vineyards

The Central Coast wine country is particularly beautiful and popular with wine enthusiasts, collectors and all who enjoy gorgeous landscapes  The rolling hills of gracious vineyards, even before they begin to leaf, are simply stunning.

Scenic Croad Vineyard

Paso Robles Wine Country offers approximately 26,000 vineyard acres, and about 200 wineries. I say “about” 200, because the number is continuing to increase.

Many open to the public for wine tasting, and we found a few new favorites. The oldest winery we visited was the Rotta family winery.

Rotta Wine Tasting Room

The original 1856 vineyard and winery was sold to Joe Rotta in 1908 and it has been operated by the Rotta family ever since.

Some of the original vines are still cultivated with a technique called dry farming–that means no irrigation, but dependent on natural rainfall. The old Zinfandel vines reach down deep into the soil for the moisture, and produce a smaller, sweeter grape.

Will climate change affect the ability to continue non-irrigation practices? Viticulturists are already asking those questions.

Cement Water Cistern Rotta Winery

Croad Vineyard in Paso Robles is owned by Martin Croad, a New Zealander. The grounds of this winery were by far the most beautiful of all we visited. The Croad label includes delicious red wines, a favorite,Taranaki, a blend of Zinfandel and Mouvèdre.

Mouvèdre has been grown in California for more than 130 years, but is known as a finicky grape. The vines are thirsty and not a good choice for novice growers. Paso Robles and Bandol, France may be the world’s best spots for growing this temperamental grape because of the sunny and hot daytime climate and cooler nights. Paso Robles, unlike Northern California, has limestone soils that contribute to a good Mouvèdre harvest.

The final stop was Opolo Vineyards, and for me, the interest came primarily through the back story of the vineyard’s inception.

Camarillo neighbors Rick Quinn and Dave Nichols invested together in Paso Robles vineyard land, starting small, but continuing to buy prime grape-growing property, expanding a personal hobby into a thriving business. The vineyard is one of the more recent–newer kids on the block. The majority of the Opolo vineyards have been producing fruit since 1998. I like a success story, and their wine is excellent, too.

Paso Robles is California’s fastest growing wine region and a beautiful part of the state.  It’s been called “the buried treasure of California’s Central Coast” and is still being discovered by Californians raised with the belief that the ultimate in wine production was all the way north in the Napa-Sonoma region. Paso Robles is only 3-4 hours from Los Angeles–a nice weekend drive.

It remains to be seen what affect climate change may eventually have on the California wine industry. With an unusually dry winter this year the wineries were already speculating about what it means if we go several years without significant rainfall.

Will economies around the world be affected by a shift in grape-growing potential?

Other countries previously thought to be totally blocked from the market are getting into the act.

And the unintended consequences? Here’s just one.

Two Chinese provinces, Sichuan and Shaanxi, currently home to more than 1,600 wild pandas, plan to establish 44,000 acres of vineyards. Vineyard expansion will severely impact the habitat for giant pandas, already endangered.

If this topic interests you, I suggest you set a google alert to “climate change and wine production” and see how many articles pop up with implications, environmental versus economic, affecting us all–not just here in California.

I hope wisdom prevails. What do you think?

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?

IMG_1494

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.

IMG_1495

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!