Exploring California Wines

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I spent over a year hardly drinking any wine. I don’t think I had more than one bottle’s worth in all that time. Before that, I used to have quite a bit: dining out, socializing with friends after class, going to and hosting wine tastings, and occasionally just for fun while at home. I’ve recently begun drinking more wine–a bottle a week.

Strangely, I feel more of an earnest oenophile now that I am more selective on when I drink wine. It became part of the image I was trying to project about being this knowledgeable person about wines, and my approach was that the higher the volume I sampled, the more I would know. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. I was like a tourist who just wanted to take selfies in foreign cities as a shallow proclamation that they’ve been places without bothering to learn a bit of the culture.

I did learn a thing or two about wine, but there were few memorable experiences, and I lacked the appreciation and respect that this artform merits. I am now pairing my weekly wine tastings with recordings of classical music performances. It’s still a work in progress, but I try to educate myself about the type of wine I’m drinking and the region it comes from. Like all the finer things in life, you need to do your homework to appreciate it fully.

Over the next few weeks, I want to focus on wines from California because they’re born from the same land that gave birth to me. So to kick this off, here’s a brief history of wine in California.

In 1680, Spanish Jesuit missionaries began planting grapes to produce wine for consecration. California would not see its first proper vineyard until almost a century later, in the 1770s, when under the direction of St. Junípero Serra, a vineyard was established at Mission San Juan Capistrano. It would be another two centuries before California wines would command the same respect as the wine regions of Europe. In 1975 at the Paris Wine Tasting, renowned French oenophiles ranked the California wines higher than the French labels in Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. It forever changed the perception of California wines on the world stage. With over 1,200 wineries in the state, there is plenty of room for me to explore locally.