Los Angeles Wine by Stuart Douglass Byles

Los Angeles Wine by Stuart Douglass Byles

Author:Stuart Douglass Byles
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Arcadia Publishing Inc.
Published: 2014-08-14T16:00:00+00:00


Vineyard acreage expansion continued at a fast pace in the 1870s and ’80s. Boom and bust cycles were the norm through the state, some coinciding with severe economic downturns in the national economy. But several factors were occurring that favored the growth of the north over the southern vineyards. Wine production in each of these areas was virtually equal in 1870. By 1890, the north was out-producing the south in gallonage by almost five to one. Figures for the north were from the East Bay Counties, Santa Clara in the south and Napa, Sonoma, Solano and Yolo Counties to the north of the bay. Figures for the south were Los Angeles County alone.

In 1869, the cross-country railroad was completed, linking San Francisco and the gold fields to the major cities of the East. Wine shipments to those markets now had a direct, shorter transport time than the old shipments that would take months going around the tip of South America. From the opposite direction came another increase in population, with new growers and winemakers.

The singular topography and climate of northern California created a more temperate growing zone than that found in the south. The coastal mountains running northwest by southeast had gaps that allowed cooler air (and fog) to be drawn into the mountain valleys from the ocean, whose very cold currents originated in the Gulf of Alaska. The “manager” of all these air currents was the huge, hot plains of the Central Valley. The broken-up geography of the lands surrounding the Bay Area created what came to be called—in a much later time—microclimates, eminently suited to grape growing. In Southern California, the unique east–west mountains of the Sierra Madre (San Gabriel/San Bernardino Mountains today) above the wide-open plains of the Los Angeles Basin and its inland valleys next to warmer ocean currents created a much more uniform climate zone with less rain and longer, hotter summers influenced by the great deserts to the east. To achieve cooler temperatures in this area, one had to plant vines at higher elevations along the mountain front, which was difficult to do on those steep, crumbling slopes.

In an age of slower travel and communication, agricultural areas lying close to the centers of population, wealth and power had greater advantages than those farther away. The rising influence of the wine merchants of San Francisco (such as Kohler and Frohling) led to the creation of the California Wine Association (CWA) in 1894, after a particularly bad economic downturn combined with a period of vineyard overproduction. Its near-monopolistic power dictated grape pricing, what was grown and sold and how it was done for the next twenty-five years. It provided stability and growth for its members. Becoming profitable, controlling influence soon passed to its banker, Isaias Hellman, who had financed many vineyard and winery operations up and down the state. The headquarters building in San Francisco had huge storage cellars in its basement, where wine was blended according to CWA standards, creating a uniform brand and taste.


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