Wednesday, November 14, 2012

California Sparkling Wine, 1879

From "Facts About Champagne and Other Sparkling Wines", 1879.

In California the manufacture of sparkling wines is carried on with considerable success, and at the Vienna Exhibition the Buena Vista Vinicultural Society of San Francisco was awarded a medal for progress for the excellent samples it sent there.

The society was originally organised by Colonel Haraszthy, the pioneer in recent times of Californian viticulture. It commenced manufacturing sparkling wines with the assistance of experienced workmen from Epernay and Ay; but the endeavours, extending over some three or four years, were attended with but indifferent success, very few cuvées proving of fair quality, whilst with the majority the wine had to be emptied from the bottles and distilled into brandy. The son of Colonel Haraszthy subsequently succeeded, in conjunction with Mr. Isidor Landsberger, of San Francisco, in discovering the cause of these failures, and for ten years past the wine has been constantly improving in quality owing to the increased use of foreign grapes, which yield a vin brut with a delicate bouquet and flavour approaching in character to the finer champagnes.

The wine is perfectly pure, no flavouring extracts or spirit being employed in the composition of the liqueur, which, is composed merely of sugar-candy dissolved in fine old wine. A French connoisseur pronounces sparkling Sonoma to be the best of American sparkling wines, “clean and fresh, tasting, with the flavour of a middle-class Ay growth, as well as remarkably light and delicate, and possessed of considerable effervescence.” The Sonoma valley vineyards produce the lightest wines of all the Californian growths, some 211 of the white varieties indicating merely 15° of proof spirit, and the red ones no more than 17½°.

The vintage takes place towards the end of October, and the grapes are gathered by Chinese laborers, who will each pick his 12 to 14 cwt. of grapes a day for the wage of a dollar. Light wooden boxes are used for holding the grapes, which are stripped from their stalks on their arrival at the press-house, and then partially crushed by a couple of revolving rollers. An inclined platform beneath receives them, and after the expressed juice has been run off into cask they are removed to the press, and the must subsequently extracted is added to that forced out by the rollers. When white wine is being made from black grapes the pressure is less continuous, and the must is of course separated at once from the skins.

The fermentation, which is violent for some ten or twelve hours, ceases in about a fortnight, providing a temperature of from 70° to 75° Fahr. is maintained in the vaults. The wine is racked at the new year, and again before the blending and bottling of it in the spring.

The Californian sparkling wines not only find a market in the eastern States, but are sent across the Pacific to the Sandwich Islands, Japan, China, and even to wine-producing Australia, which has not yet succeeded in producing sparkling wines of its own.

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