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 California Wine and Brandy

These are the product of the grape, and constitute one of the great staples of California. The limit of production, or localities best suited for the vine, can be scarcely pointed out. From the plains of the extreme south to the mountain-sides and valleys of the north, at an elevation of 4,000 feet, the grape is equally at home, though changing its qualities with its change of location. The richest soil by the river-side, as well as the arid and gravelly hills, produce grapes of the finest quality. A vast area of mountain land, too dry for growing grain, is well adapted for the vine, and the wine made from grapes grown in such places is stronger than that grown in the moist and more fertile soil of the valleys. The vine was planted in California by the first Missionaries, a hundred years ago, and has borne fruit without the loss of a single year ever since. The Mission grape is the most cultivated, but many varieties of recent import are supplanting it, as being more marketable for the table, and for drying into raisins. The character and quality of wine appears to be as greatly influenced by the soil and climatic conditions of the locality as by the grape from which it is made. This has been particularly remarked in Europe; so in every quarter of California many different brands are rising into celebrity made from the same original species of grape. Even at this early day in our history of wine-making, the list of wines is very formidable, and what is gratifying is that the quality, if not the quantity, is rapidly improving. In making wine, as in other efforts in developing our resources, the knowledge obtained in other countries was of little avail, repeated losses, following experiment, leading the way to success. And still improvement continues, giving the assurance that at no distant day California wines will take the precedence over all others.

From several causes, among which were Federal taxation, inexperience in manufacture, and wines of unaccustomed tastes, the planting of vineyards and making of wine received a check, and the statistical figures have remained about the same for several years past. The general estimate is that there are some 30,000,000 vines growing in California, from which about the same number of gallons of wine might be made, but the demand for eating and drying the grapes is greater than for wine, and only some 6'000,000 gallons are manufactured annually, though by some estimated at 10,000,000 gallons. Los Angeles is the oldest and the loading county in viniculture, producing over 1,500,000 gallons, and Sonoma ranks second in the list, manufacturing upward of 600,000 gallons. From Tehama in the north comes the well-known Gorke wine, from San Mateo the Golden, and from San Bernardino in the south the favorite Cucamongo. From El Dorado, Placer, Amador and others of the old mining counties, come wines and brandies of fine quality, and as the soil of the mountains is proving most favorable for grape-growing, as well as for other fruit, it is probable that in the future the wines of the Sierra will rival, if not surpass, in quality and quantity those of the great valleys.'

The manufacture of brandy follows wine-making, the annual product being from 250,000 to 300,000 gallons. In this no brands have yet attained celebrity, the general character being crude and fiery. These defects, however, will probably be remedied by experience and as the liquors acquire age. The strong wines of the mountains appear most favorable for distilling, and as our wino and brandy-makers become experienced, California brandy may rival the choicest descriptions of France.

Champagne is made in large quantities, some few brands having achieved a reputation for quality almost equaling the most noted champagnes of Rheims. The light wines of Sonoma arc largely used in the manufacture of this sparkling and exhilarating beverage. Two methods of manufacture are used; the natural fermentation in the bottle, and the injection of carbonic acid gas by the soda fountain; the former being the only true method of making champagne, the latter being an imitation that has prejudiced consumers against the home-made article. There is no doubt that some of the champagnes of California are equal to those of any country, and will soon supply the home demand.

Mr. Arpad Harasthy, who is extensively engaged in cultivating the vine in Sonoma County, and in making champagne in San Francisco, estimates the cost of land and establishing a vineyard in that county at $150 per acre, which, when in full bearing, should give a net return of from $50 to $60. Each acre will give from 350 to 400 gallons of wine, worth from twenty-five to thirty-five cents per gallon at the vineyard; grapes selling at from $20 to $35 per ton, the higher price being for the choice European varieties.

At Sacramento the Johnson Distillery Company, operating under a patented process of making brandy, is prepared to work up the large crop of grapes grown in that vicinity. By this process it is claimed a better quality and greater quantity of brandy is made than by the old method of making it, now brandy being given the taste and appearance of age.

California Gazetteer | AHGP California

Source: Pacific Coast Business Directory for 1876-78, Compiled by Henry G. Langley, San Francisco, 1875

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