Wines, Brandies, and Vinous Products – Part 2


Relative size of grape industry by 1869

As you can see by 1869 the grape crop was huge in comparison to the other fruits grown in California. Even the State’s signature fruit, the orange is surpassed by the grape. 1869 would see the consumption of wine grow to 5,000,000 gallons and brandy’s consumption would grow to 200,000 gallons. At the fairs, we start to see wines from Nevada City, Sonoma, Martinez, Napa, Santa Clara.

Interior of Union Square Pavilion Mechanics’ Institute Archives

Interior of Union Square Pavilion, Mechanics’ Institute Archives, Photos by Eadward Muybridge

The 1868 and 1869 fairs looked like this inside, again taken by our favorite photographer Eadward Muybridge. Note the central fountain, it was a wonderful place to people watch. 600,000 people would attend the 1868 fair.  Right next to the fountain in the back is Martinelli’s Cider display – always a party pleaser, back then his cider was even more fun, it was alcoholic!

The fair displays weren’t limited to wine itself – all technologies related to wine and spirits production was on display as well. At each fair there was on average of three different wine and cider presses, as well as a dizzying assortment of grape crushers, stemmers, cabinets, and storage innovations.

UntitledThe 1870’s were fraught with excitement and fear for the industry. Excitement because the wine products were improving in taste and quality with the new grape varieties being introduced from Europe. The 1870’s would see the shift of more grapes being produced in North rather than South California. But vintners were fearful because imported wines were still the preference of consumers – comprising about 80% of the market – and because there was an awful insect spreading that was destroying vines at the root.


Mechanics' Institute Archives

1876 Exhibition, Mechanics’ Institute Archives 1876 Exhibition – Note the Wine casks at the back of the room. There are also displays with bottles on either side of the room but its hard to see what they are displaying. This photo was taken by Carleton Watkins.

Grape phylloxera is a tiny aphidlike insect that feeds on grape roots, stunting growth of vines or killing them. It originated in North America, spread to France – destroying about 40% of their wine industry between 1850 and 1875. Then another infestation in California happened – the first insects were found in Sonoma County in 1873. The problem spread slowly but by 1880 growers were faced with a major problem. Some 600 acres had been destroyed in Sonoma County alone and other infestations had been found in every wine growing area in the State save Los Angeles.


Stay tuned for Part 3


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