While regions of California have always had environments conducive for growing wine grapes, the history of California wine begins in late 1700s. Because Spanish missionaries began California wine production during the 18th century, nearly 90% of American wine is produced in California.
In 1769, the Spanish Crown ordered Franciscan missionary Father Junipero Serra to bring Christianity to the indigenous peoples living in the former province of Alta California. Ten years later, fellow Franciscan missionaries used the Native Americans' labor to plant a sustained vineyard in what is now San Diego. Under Father Serra's direction, the variety was known as the Mission grape, and until 1880 dominated California wine production.
Most of California's commercial viticulture was based in Southern California until the Gold Rush during 1848-1855. Due to the influx of people settling in Northern California, wine production expanded to areas near San Francisco and further north. Wine production also expanded to Napa County, Lake County, Sonoma County, and more northern areas in the 1850s. These regions are still hubs of California wine production and cultivation.
The Spanish missionaries were able to begin to grow wine in California because the soils were mostly analogous to the soils they were used to. In Rioja, Spain, clay soils dominate, and these same soils dominate the hillside vineyards of Napa County, California. Because of their tendency to remain cooler and retain water, clay soils allow for the production of bold red and white wines, such as Shiraz and Chianti.
Loam soils, typically beneficial for most agricultural and gardening purposes, is a mix of silt, clay, sand, and organic humus. Loam is extremely fertile, causing vineyards to be too vigorous in growth. In Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley, however, the soils are predominantly sandy-loam, with the sand allowing the soil to produce high quality wine grapes.
Because of the diversity of soils in California Wine Country, growing a variety of wine grapes is easy and provides for a broad range of wine production. The centers for wine cultivation are popular tourist destinations for all wine lovers filled with a rich history of California wine. Most of Wine Country Gift Baskets wines come from these very regions.