Saturday, July 25, 2009

California as a Vineland, 1864

This excerpt from May 1864 edition of The Atlantic Monthly Magazine is interesting in its comparison of early California wines to their European cousins of the time.

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 wine, 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.

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