A walk through California\'s vineyards
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A walk through California's vineyards

‘Sideways’ is about the lives of two 40-somethings with contrary personalities who go on a one-week trip to Santa Barbara’s vineyards, in California. The movie, which is certainly not the only one having Californian vineyards as the background, presents a great panoramic of the American crops. On the other hand, and this not many people know, it was precisely this region’s grapes that saved the wine from the other side of the Atlantic. Besides, the movie starred by Paul Giamatti, reveals the touristic activity developed around the drink in a story we’ll tell in more detail below.

The Californian wine goes way back, and in the end of the 20th century, the region was famous for producing some of the world’s best wines. California would be the world’s 4th largest wine producer if it were an independent nation.

In 1769, the Franciscan missionary priest Junipero Serra planted the region’s first vineyard. The priest continued to establish missions and vineyards until the day of his death, in 1784, and is since then considered the “Californian wine priest”.

The first European imported wines we planted in Los Angeles, in 1833, by Jean-Louis Vignes. Between 1850 and 1860 a Hungarian soldier, who was also a trader, went on several trips to import cuttings from 165 of the best European vineyards to California.

In 1863, some of the native grape species were taken from England’s botanical gardens. These cuttings, they say, had a kind of root louse, called phylloxera, which attack the vineyard’s roots, as well as the leaves. The phylloxera is native from North America, and the vineyards’ varieties developed a kind of resistance against the plague. Many different methods were used for trying to eradicate it, but all of them only worked for a certain amount of time, and were very expensive.

In the end, Thomas Munson, a horticulturist from Texas, suggested engraftment in the European grapevines with ciliary roots from America. From then on, a large engraftment project started with the wine coming from Europa. Only than the wine business was recovered, and saved from extinction.

The destruction of the American wine was not phylloxera’s fault, but the US Prohibition’s. During the national revoked, until December 1933, the industry was in ruins. Even though some vineyards were capable of going through that difficult phase, by obtaining permissions to keep using the wine for medical purposes, the drink’s production had a 94% downfall between 1919 and 1925.

California’s current wine offer
Right after the wine’s rebirth in the mid-20th century, the wine from California was in France for an international competition, in 1976, when it received prizes for both white and red wines, beating France itself. There are currently 1200 vineyards in the state, number which includes since small productions, up to large companies, such as E&J Gallo Winery, with worldwide distribution.

Grapes and wines
More than 100 grape varieties are cultivated in California, including French, Italian, and Spanish grapes, as well as the hybrid variety and the new varieties developed by the University of California. The seven main varieties are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Zinfandel. Other grapes for red wine include Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Carignan, Grenache, Malbec, Mouvedre, Petit Syrah, Petit Verdot, and Sangiovese.

The main grapes for whihte wine include the Chenin Blanc, the French Colombard, the Gewürztraminer, the Marsanne, the Muscat Canelli, the Pinot Blanc, the Pinot Gris, the Riesling, the Roussane, the Sémillon, the Trousseau Gris, and the Viognier.

A few recommendations (for red wines):
MCMANIS PETITE SYRAH 2012 (13,40 €), 100% Petite Sirah
MCMANIS PETITE SYRAH 2014 (13,90 €)100% Petite Sirah
MERRYVALE PROFILE 2000 (84,45 €)


Rafael Paniagua

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