Junípero Serra

Franciscan Padres introduced the first European grape to the New World to make wine for the sacrament, drinking, and export. The art of winemaking and the rootstock that we now call the Mission Grape, belonging to the famed Vitis vinifera species of grapes, were brought to California by the Spaniards.

The grape, first known as Listan Prieto, arrived in Mexico around 1540 and was planted in what is now New Mexico in the 1620s. The Franciscan Padres planted grapevines at many of the missions they established along El Camino Real which wound from San Diego to Sonoma in Northern California. Eventually, vineyards grew at all the missions, from one acre at Mission Santa Clara to 170 acres at Mission San Gabriel.


1518: Spanish explorer Hernan (accent over the a) Cortes (accent over the e) sails from Cuba with his army to conquer Mexico. He discovers Lower California (Baja) and sends explorers along the Pacific Coast to claim Baja and Alta California for Spain and King Charles I who is also known as Holy Roman Emperor Charles the V.

1518 to 1520: Hernan Cortes decrees that each settler in Mexico and Baja has to plant 1,000 grapevines for every 100 inhabitants on his land.

1540: Grapevine cuttings, Vitis vinifera, arrive in Mexico from Spain on ships and became known in the New World as Mission Grapes. Five centuries later this grape will be identified as the Listan Prieto, a red grape believed to have originated in the Castilla-La Mancha region of Spain.

1542: The first European explorer to visit the sand dunes in San Luis Obispo County is Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo, a Portuguese sailor. He charted the areas of the bay of San Luis Obispo between Point Luis and Avila, in the Estero Bay, the conical rock known as El Moro and Piedras Blancas.

1543: Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo dies on January 5th on San Miguel Island near Santa Barbara, His ships and crew return to Mexico, ending the first exploration and claim to Alta California.


1602: The Spanish send Sebastian (accent on the second a) Vizcaino (accent over the i), a pearl fisherman to explore Alta California. He commands a fleet of three vessels which surveys the Pacific Coast, recording written records of historic journey that are now archived in Spain. It is believed that he named locations such as San Diego, the Santa Barbara Islands, Monterey and Point Reyes. These records are forgotten for the next 160 years.

1620: Mission grape cuttings are transported to the north to be planted in Spanish territory, now recognized as the State of New Mexico, in the United States.


1769: King Charles III of Spain reining from 1759 to 1788 launches new voyages and land expeditions to survey the Pacific Coast. He wants Spain to physically occupy Alta California and engages the Catholic Church, a powerful religious and political force to assist him. The sea expedition is organized by José de Gálvez. The land expedition is led by Gaspar de Portolá with Father Junipero Serra, who had been appointed as President of the missions. The land expedition travels with over 200 heads of cattle and with grape cuttings to be planted in mission vineyards.

1769: Fathers Junípero Serra, Juan Vizcaino, and Fernando Parrón establish Alta California’s first mission, Mission San Diego de Alcalá.

1769: Don Gaspar de Portola and expeditions explored the Central Coast, camping in the sand dunes and discovering the existence of grizzly bears.

1770: Mission San Carlos Borromeo-Carmelo is founded in present-day Carmel-by-the-Sea. California.

1771: Mission San Antonio de Padua is founded near present-day Jolon, California.

1771: Mission San Gabriel Arcángel is established by Padres Pedro Benito Cambon and Angel Fernández de la Somera in present-day San Gabriel, California. The mission later becomes California Historical Landmark No. 158 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places: NPS-71000158.

1772: Father Serra and his expedition reach the Central Coast and establish the location of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa on September 1 in present-day San Luis Obispo.

1773: Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa buildings are erected. It is not known when the first grapevines were planted. The mission later becomes California Historical Landmark No. 325.

1775: The oldest California winery was established at Mission San Gabriel where the famous Trinity Vine, planted in 1775, flourished for over 150 years. Also known as the Mother Vine of California, cuttings from the vines at San Gabriel were planted throughout California. In 1861 a small segment of the original vine was transplanted to a site adjacent to the Mission and to Home of Ramona (or Ramona’s Inn). Its trellised branches once covered 10,000 square feet and were a popular gathering place. Portions of the original vine, named the Old Grapevine, can be viewed at what is now know as Grapevine Arbour Park.

1782: Father Serra is present at the founding of the Presidio of Santa Barbara in Santa Barbara, California.

1783: The first layman wine grower of record was Governor Pedro Fages in Monterey. He first planted orchards and then added a vineyard in 1783.

1784: Father Junípero Serra (1713-1784) dies and is buried at the Carmel Mission in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

1797: this is the earliest reference to distilling brandy in the Mission Era of Alta California according to historian Thomas Pinney.

1797: Mission San Miguel Arcángel is established in present-day San Miguel, California. Vineyards are planted in Vineyard Canyon and a winery established before 1804. The mission later becomes California Historical Landmark No. 326 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places: NPS-71000191.

1797: Mission San Diego vineyards produced enough grapes for wine.