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Sonoma County Wine History

Few districts have more of the character of old California than Sonoma County, and grapes and wine have been integral to its history. As early as 1812, Russian colonists planted and cultivated grapes at Ft. Ross on the Coast. But it was the Spanish Franciscan Fathers who laid the foundation for our wine industry in 1823 when Padre Jose Altimera planted several thousand grape vines at their northernmost mission, San Francisco Solano in Sonoma. In 1834, political upheaval brought an appropriation of all missions by the Mexican government. During this period of disarray, cuttings from the Sonoma Mission vineyards were carried throughout the northern California area to start new vineyards. By the time of the "Bear Flag Revolt " and the subsequent annexation of California by the United States in 1854, the vineyards of General Mariano Vallejo, the military Governor of Mexican California, were producing an annual income of $20,000. Other areas in the county were developing at this time: Rocky Mountain trapper Cyrus Alexander in northern Sonoma first planted grapes in what would become Alexander Valley; the county's first "feminine vineyardist ", Senora Maria de Carrillo, had 2,000 vines in what would be Santa Rosa; Captain Nicholas Carrigan, probably the first American settler, had vineyards in the Valley of the Moon, and later in 1852, his neighbor William Hill, planted the first non-mission grapes in the county.

All of this viticulture activity took place prior to the arrival in 1855 of the man considered "The Father of California Wine Industry ", Count Agoston Haraszthy. The Hungarian Count purchased the Salvador Vallejo vineyard in Sonoma Valley, renamed it Buena Vista, and soon was producing fine wines from the vineyard. In 1861 he was commissioned, but never paid, by the California legislature to study viticulture in Europe. He returned to Sonoma County the following year with over 100,000 cuttings of prized grape varietals from France, Italy and Spain. Haraszthy is credited with first promoting the concept that fine table wines could be produced in Sonoma County as well as Europe.

Today, in Sonoma County approximately 133,000 tons of grapes are produced on nearly 48,000 acres of vineyards. There are over 150 wineries, over half less than 20 years old. And, as it was over 150 years ago, small family owned wineries continue to exist comfortably alongside larger entities, each producing premium wine in his own unique style.

from Sonoma County Wineries Association

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