St. Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks, Volume 33, Scribner & Company, 1906, page 751.

The art of winemaking and the rootstock that we 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.

According to legend, Padre Junipero Serra and his followers brought the first vines from Baja California and planted them near Mission San Diego in 1769.

The Franciscan Fathers planted grape vines at many of the Missions they established along the famous Camino Real which wound from San Diego to Sonoma in Northern California. Eventually, vineyards grew at all the Missions, from one acre at Santa Clara to 170 acres at Mission San Gabriel. The oldest California winery was also established at Mission San Gabriel in Southern California where the famous Trinity Vine, planted in 1775, flourished for over 150 years.

Some of the settlers at the San Gabriel Mission moved westward to establish the Pueblo, which was to become the City of Los Angeles and plant their own vineyards.

The first layman wine grower of record was Governor Pedro Fages. He lived in Monterey, what was then known as Alta California. He first planted orchards and then added a vineyard in 1783.

The first woman wine grower in California was Dona Marcellina Felix Dominguez, born in 1760. She planted her vineyard in the early 1800s at Montecito, near Santa Barbara. The vine was known as La Parra Grande. It was planted as a slender stem with its roots buried deep in the soil, irrigated by a natural hot spring and warmed by the sun in the beautiful Mediterranean climate close to the Pacific Ocean. It grew to become world famous, The Largest Grapevine in the world, in the small settlement now known as Montecito. The La Parra Grande vine was rumored to bear four tons of grapes in good years, although some reports mentioned 10 tons of grapes in bountiful harvests. Today Parra Grande Lane marks the original site in the neighborhood of La Parra Grande Vine.

According to an article from 1874 in the Rural Carolinian, An Illustrated Magazine of Agriculture, Horticulture and the Arts, Senorita Marcellina Felix was a great beauty from Los Angeles. She fell in love with Carlos, a man who had no prospects, money or job. Her parents rejected his proposal of marriage, but Carlos promised to seek his fortune in the mines and bring back wealth to please her parents. He asked Senorita Marcellina Felix to wait for him. He gave her a vine from his own humble vineyard and asked her to plant and care for it until he returned to seal his promise. Carlos traveled with an Indian guide to find his fortune. Marcellina and her family moved to the Santa Barbara area and settled four miles from the Santa Barbara Mission.

Marcellina planted the vine at her new home and cared for it while praying that Carlos would soon return to her. Carlos returned two years later, and the two were married. Their romance and the grapevine, the token of their fidelity, became huge. The couple lived happily together. Dona Marcellina was said to have lived to 105 when she died in 1865. Her fame had spread far and wide; she was known as La Vieja de la Parra Grande or “The Old Lady of the Grape Vines.

In 1876, when the vine was almost 100 years old, a remarkable Centennial Exposition was planned in Philadelphia. Communities all over the country were asked to submit exhibits. The local community decided to submit La Parra Grande. They cut the vine into pieces and shipped it to Philadelphia where it was reassembled and displayed in the California pavilion. It was described in accompanying literature as a vine with a 9-foot 7-inch circumference at the base with the branches of stems growing in all directions. The vine-covered 10,000 square feet of land. It was supported by dozens of strong posts and therefore provided shade for at least 700 people. It became the heart of Montecito where dances, funerals, weddings, elections, and fiestas were celebrated.

The world was in awe of this huge grapevine that was planted as a slender vine and grew to be the token of fidelity between two lovers, Marcellina and Carlos.

By Libbie Agran

Source: Guide to California Wines by John Melville, 1955