On All Saints Day, in the year of our Declaration of Independence, Father Junipero Serra officially founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, ushering in the dawn of California's wine culture. It wasn't Napa, Lodi, or Cucamonga that witnessed the first cultivation of the vine in the Las Californias Province of New Spain. Nor were the Padres planting California's storied Zinfandel grape, which wouldn't arrive in the New World for another seventy years.
150 Year Old Mission Grapes
Besides posole, citrus, pigs, and figs, the Franciscan missionaries brought the Criolla grape (Listan Prieta) to Las Californias. Today, Criolla, the Mission Grape, is largely extinct in its native Spain, and there are less than one thousand acres of Mission Grapes under cultivation in California. Although the Mission grapevine is a heavy producer, by the mid-1800's it had been supplanted by Zindandel.
Mission Grapes were crushed in an adobe vat (above) by young Juaneno (Acagchemem) Indian men. Once crushed, the juice flowed into a covered, adobe fermentation vat (below), located in an adjacent room.
The Padres made dry and sweet wines, both red and white, as well as brandy and a fortified dessert wine called Angelica. Apparently, the Men in Frocks were pretty good at their trade. Anchored off San Juan Capistrano in 1825, Captain John Hall recorded in the ship's log that.....
Good wine can be procured from the Friars, both white wine and red, the latter being of fine flavor.
Gardens at Mission San Juan Capistrano
Photo Credit: TWC 10-17-2007 © all rights reserved
Mission Grapes photo appears courtesy of Swanson Vineyards.