Description 1 of 2

Viticulture in California began in the 1700s as Spanish missionaries worked their way north from the South American colonies. Grapes (of the Mission, a.k.a. Pais, variety) were originally planted with the intention of producing ceremonial wine and the first wineries were established for the cultivation of Mission grapes. From these beginnings, Parisian oenologist Jean Louis Vignes is credited with being the first person to import European vines for general consumption to Los Angeles in 1833. 

This was followed in the 1850’s with Hungarian businessman  Agoston Haraszthy, who came to California after establishing businesses in Wisconsin. Finding the prevalent Mission grape to be of inferior quality, he began to select high quality vines from Europe and established vineyards in Crystal Springs outside San Francisco with the help of a government viticulture grant. Though found culpable for some shady business practices outside the wine industry, he was able to relocate his vines from Crystal Springs to a vineyard in Sonoma, which he renamed Buena Vista. He joined forces with General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, who had relocated from Baja and planted more vitis vinifera as well as the first Zinfandel plantings in the state. Haraszthy is credited with starting hillside planting as well as using a Chinese immigrant labor force to dig the first caves for cool temperature cellaring. 
The 1860s marked tragedy for the European wine industry as the Phylloxera crisis took hold and destroyed most of the vines, and this spread to the vitis vinifera in the states. After discovering that precious grapes could be salvaged by grafting native American root stock to European vines, California rebounded quickly as Europe began its slow recovery into the 19th century. This was an opportunity for the expansion and export boom of California wine until the Prohibition put an abrupt halt on the industry from 1919 - 1933. And the rest of the world drank on.
But the California wine industry came back as American Viticultural Areas (AVA’s), akin to the European appellation system, were established. The 1950s - 1980s marked an era of divurging tastes. This was a time of cheap jug wine, bastardization of European grapes and places (Fume Blanc and Rhine wine anyone?) and the proliferation of super fruity blush wines, or “white Zinfandel,” to mass produce releases that were considered more suitable for the average American palate. At the same time, wine-makers began cultivating high quality wines that matched, and in many cases, exceeded the reputation of big name labels from overseas. The real turning point came in 1976 in the infamous Judgement of Paris in which wines from California producers bested some of the finest French wines to win the competition in blind tastings. This is also the era of the “Rhone Rangers” movement to advance the quality production of Rhone varietals which had previously been underused in favor of Bordeaux grapes. 
Today, California is still a mix of mass production and artisanal wine-making, and there is debate over what can be considered a distinctly “California” style of wine. For every oak-driven Chardonnay there is another producer finding ways to vinify Italian or Spanish varietals, previously unknown to US soil, using native yeasts and judicious oak treatment. For every $1000 bottle of cult Cabernet there are humble wineries churning out accessible small productions for the sheer purpose of maximum enjoyment. With its various microclimates and terroirs and the range of grapes and styles being implemented, California has proven to be a region with something for every palate. ~Amanda Schuster
– Description from Amanda Schuster

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Description 2 of 2

Wine arrived in California via the Spanish Mission chain, working its way northward from South America. Over the next four centuries the Golden State would strive to prove that it was the true Oenotria. By the second half of the 20th century, California was firmly established as one of the very best wine regions in the world. With 480,000 vineyard acres and 1200+ wineries producing an amazing 560 million gallons of wine annually, California is only exceeded by the national outputs of Italy, France, and Spain. Today, vineyards cover the state from north to south, and include just about every conceivable microclimate, with hospitable conditions for the cultivation of every classic wine variety, as well as a host of Californian originals. With such diversity, California can not be taken seriously as a "distinct" region. Within the state, almost 90 different American Viticultural Areas have already been officially recognized by the TTB, with many more pending. California vintners can produce every wine type and style imaginable, from dry to dessert, fortified, and sparkling. For the wine consumer, California is the one-stop-shopping destination with a wine for every palate. For this same reason California, used as an appellation, can only be a guarantee of broadest-origin (and nothing more), and wines carrying the California appellation are likely to be blends of fruit originating from a number of more specific (and distinct) appellations within the state. – Description from Appellation America (view original content)

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